The debate and media reporting on Victoria’s youth gang crime is sparking abuse and threats towards people of African background, the state’s human rights leader says.
Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton wants political leaders and the media to avoid divisive commentary and instead promote diversity.
Following a series of recent high-profile crimes involving youths of African appearance, including assaults, brawls, armed robberies, and home invasions, Ms Hilton says there is no “African gang crisis” and it is misleading and hurtful to suggest there is.
“Negative reporting that stereotypes a community on the basis of race is divisive and harmful,” she said on Thursday.
“It paints an inaccurate picture and distorts the issue.
“Government and the media have an important role in championing the positive values of diversity and equality.”
Victorian Police and African community leaders announced on Wednesday a taskforce would be established to tackle youth violence and ease racial tensions.
Although the issue of crime among African youth in Melbourne first arose when the Apex gang emerged as early as 2012, debate intensified following the recent events.
Federal immigration minister Peter Dutton inflamed the debate last week when he said some Melburnians were afraid to go out to dinner because of gang-related crime.
Others have suggested the concern is overblown, saying incidents involving African youths have become a political tool and get more media coverage.
Ms Hilton said innocent members of the African-Australian community were suffering as a result of the commentary.
“Their members, particularly young people, are anxious about the way the issues are being reported,” she said.
“And are experiencing higher levels of abuse and distrust.”
The commissioner urged Victorians to take a stand against racism wherever they see it.
Premier Daniel Andrews on Thursday said there was no gang “crisis” but said there had been many “nasty” gang crimes in Victoria recently.
“There is no excuse for the behaviour we’ve seen,” he said on Thursday.