'People in power' spur racism

Issue 

By Jenny Long

SYDNEY — Ever since the Lakemba police station was shot up on November 1, the city's media have bombarded residents with about the "lethal cocktail" of "migrant crime". RANDA KATTAN, executive director of the Australian Arabic Communities Council, spoke to Green Left Weekly about the Arabic community's response to this vilification.

Hysteria about "ethnic gangs" had been building in the media since the October 17 stabbing of teenager Edward Lee in the south-western suburb of Punchbowl. When the Lakemba police station was the target of a drive-by shooting, all hell broke loose.

Within a day, everyone knew that the police "knew" the attackers, who were identified as a "Lebanese gang", because Premier Bob Carr and Police Commissioner Peter Ryan said so publicly.

Unnamed police officers told the media that it was a case of "religious fervour". "Let's not beat around the bush", one officer reportedly said, "we are dealing with ethnic-based gangs who have come from harsh environments where life is cheap".

The immediate problem is not the crime situation in the Bankstown area, Kattan commented. "That is the job of the police, and they are supposed to do it irrespective of anybody's background." But for crimes to be automatically linked up to an ethnic or cultural background was "a bit presumptuous. Ethnicity has nothing to do with it."

Feedback to the council over the "ethnicising" of the crimes indicated that "the outrage of the community is enormous", she said.

Newspaper headlines had been totally provocative, Kattan said, like "the Telegraph going around saying 'Shoot the messenger'".

The community had been concerned, she said, from the day of the tragic murder of Edward Lee. The council had commented on the linking of the crime to an ethnic background. "We said it is a crime, it's not a race issue ... I just don't understand why race was brought up there.

"We were utterly bewildered, all of a sudden to see the cultural background linked up with the crime in every single newspaper in this country."

Community leaders had felt a certain responsibility, Kattan noted, because the powers that be were calling on a specific community to assist in catching the criminals. But they became more and more outraged by the media.

Kattan acknowledged that there are social problems. What was needed was for the government to look at services in Bankstown or Lakemba.

Meanwhile, any young people in groups over three are classified as a gang and are searched. These young people have been branded in the media as "Lebanese gangs", she said. "Can you imagine the repercussion of all this on these young people?"

"They have to do something in terms of the racial intolerance", she said. If you listen to the talkback shows and look at the papers, she commented, they felt free to run the stories about a particular ethnic background "because somebody in power mentioned it".

That's no excuse, though, said. The newspapers "have a responsibility not to create racial tension and racial hatred".

What also needs to be looked at "is the racism that really exists out there, within the police force, within the various structures, within society, within the Bankstown area, as well as Lakemba ... And we need to examine why this particular community was so targeted in such a vicious and malicious way."

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