Racist police violence in Melbourne suburb

Twenty-one police cars swarmed on the inner-western suburb of Flemington on November 28 after allegations a teenager of African descent swore at two police cars on patrol.

According to the police version of events, repeated throughout the mainstream media, a young man threw a rock and a "large crowd, possibly numbering over a hundred, gathered, attempting to free the man who attacked police". Inspector Nigel Howard said youths were swearing at police as they drove past, which was when they took action. "The problem was that my members continue to be abused", Howard said.

Police are alleged to have used pepper spray and "choke-slamming" on African teenagers. Four young people aged between 14 and 18 have been charged with indecent language. They required medical treatment at hospital.

In a November 30 article on Crikey.com.au, Tamar Hopkins, the principal solicitor for Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre offered a different version of events to that of the police: "The first person who was allegedly assaulted by police had just jumped out of his boss's car after being driven home from work. Police have accused the young person of throwing a rock at a police car in an earlier incident. But there appears to be no evidence to link this young person to the event."

Reports of a "mob" of "over 100" people threatening the police has been described as a beat-up by police. Dr Berhan Ahmed from the Eritrean Community in Australia told the November 30 Herald Sun, "There were only 15 youths in the area and everyone who was standing there (watching) was counted."

"Life is like a fishbowl on the Flemington estate. The youth are heavily targeted and under constant police surveillance", Hopkins told the November 30 Age.

One 16-year-old youth involved accused police of harassing local youths every night, saying they would come around in two cars and ask teenagers for their name and address. "One of the cops grabbed me and choke-slammed me to the floor and goes on top of me and five of them go on top of me and my friend", he told the November 29 Age. "They were pushing our faces to the ground and (had their) knees on us."

"The African community in Flemington is deeply distressed and concerned by the excessive and violent policing of their community and their young people. A mother whose son was not even present reported keeping her son at home today for fear he would be targeted by police if he went out. People experience constant harassment and it affects their lives, safety, right to privacy and dignity and equal treatment before the law. African-Australians are viewed by some police as suspects, not people with rights", said Hopkins.

Police have also been accused of escalating an incident at nearby Highpoint Shopping Centre on October 13 this year, which started as a popcorn fight between two girls celebrating the end of Ramadan.

The Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre has made 19 complaints to the Office of Police Integrity about police violence and racism since March 2006. These include police officers using insults including "Why don't you go back to Africa" and "black cunt" — and repeatedly calling a young person "black dog" while punching him in the head.

The complaints are now the subject of a confidential report written by the Ethical Standards Department of the Victorian police. Police have so far fought successfully to keep its contents secret. Hopkins called for the police to release the whole report.