On the evening of March 12, during Melbourne's Moomba festival, there was a disturbance involving crowds of young people around Federation Square.
One passer-by was hospitalised, and discharged later the same evening. Four youths were arrested: two for drunkenness, one for carrying a stun gun, and another for allegedly knocking a police officer's radio or phone into their face. Some tables and chairs outside cafes were overturned, and crockery smashed.
In the days that followed, saturation media coverage not only exaggerated the scale of the “riot”, but focused heavily on the fact that some of the youths involved were not white and blamed the disturbance on campaigns against racial profiling by Victoria Police.
It has not just been the Murdoch tabloids and commercial radio shock-jocks running with this racist coverage. The Fairfax-owned Age has been in the forefront.
“Youths' behaviour 'like animals',” screamed a headline in the March 14 Age, over an article that alleged the disturbance was by “street gangs” who were “predominantly of South Sudanese descent”.
The quote likening the youths to animals came from staff at a cafe who also described the brawling youths as “terrorists”.
That edition of the Age devoted its front page, two double-page spreads and the editorial to the incident and more editorials and opinion pieces appeared in following days.
A March 15 Age editorial, with a headline calling on police to “crack down hard”, said: “Hundreds of hooligans, of African, Pacific Islander and other backgrounds, swarmed into the city on Saturday evening, intent on wreaking havoc.”
Presumably “other backgrounds” accounts for the fact that some of the youths were white, however none of the media coverage has queried what deficiencies in white Australian culture make youth behave badly. That question is apparently only relevant for Africans and Pacific Islanders.
“We suspect it is because Victoria Police have swung too far in the direction of appeasement, especially after the force was sued over racial profiling in the Flemington and North Melbourne areas,” the editorial said, revealing the agenda of the media coverage.
In 2013, a group of young African-Australian men, assisted by the Flemington-Kensington Community Legal Centre, won a long running lawsuit against the Victorian Police over “racial profiling” — the illegal police practice of seeing being young and black as suspicious.
The case revealed how African-Australian youth might be stopped and searched up to five times a day, despite never being charged with any crime.
In September, changes to the Victorian Police Manual made explicit that racial profiling, defined as “making policing decisions that are not based on objective or reasonable justification, but on stereotypical assumptions about race, colour, language, ethnicity, ancestry or religion”, was “a form of discrimination” and illegal.
However, the Flemington-Kensington Community Legal Centre said on March 15 that it “still receives serious complaints and has several cases running that indicate police have stopped people based upon their perceived race”.
In the March 14 Age, in article tinged with racism — for example “angry Sudanese brought up in a culture of violence” — journalist John Silvester said of the allegations of racial profiling: “There were claims they were pulling over and questioning kids because of the colour of their skins not because they were suspected of any particular crime.”
He neglected to mention these claims were proven in court. He continued: “And so police are reticent to talk about the problem of ethnic-based gangs for fear of being branded racist. But there is a problem. In the police southern region the number of car thefts is at a record high and the mostly Sudanese Apex gang is largely responsible.”
This raises the question, if the police are reticent to talk about ethnic-based crime, who told him that a mostly Sudanese gang was responsible car theft in the police southern region?
He concluded with a call for increased racial profiling: “So how do we respond? … Pull them over, question them, search them, seize their drugs, disrupt their gatherings.
“If they drive, roadworthy their cars … change the laws so their phones and computers can be seized. And if they are 18 or above and are not Australian citizens they should be deported.”
In the March 16 Age Police Association Victoria secretary Ron Iddles was given a column to also argue that the changes to the Victorian Police Manual were responsible for mayhem on the streets.
“Let us not mince words. Victoria Police and the state government have become too timid towards ethnic-based gangs. Their timidity is because of political correctness. Police have been handcuffed by fears of being labelled racist. The ethnic gangs then become emboldened and believe they can indulge in violence with impunity,” he fulminated.
The Flemington and Kensington Legal Centre rejected the attempts to use the Moomba brawl to relegitimise racial profiling.
“To infer that police or agencies have been 'over-indulgent towards some communities' is shockingly inaccurate and dangerous … To blame new anti-racial profiling measures for the weekend's brawl is not only fundamentally wrong, it implies that police should be racially profiling more,” they said in March 15 statement.
The Centre's Anthony Kelly criticised the media coverage. He told SBS Radio on March 15: “In 2010, 4 to 5,000 predominantly young men caused 14 or 15,000 dollars worth of damage. They overturned cars, they set fire to buildings, they smashed windows, they threw chairs around in an inner suburb of Melbourne, in Oakleigh. Their race and ethnicity wasn't mentioned one iota.”
The youths involved in that disturbance were predominantly Anglo-Australian.