Media and political comment on African gang violence in Melbourne is unhelpful and ignores the success of immigrant integration in regional centres such as Shepparton, city leaders say.
State member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed and Shepparton police acting Inspector Ross Brittain have both said Shepparton’s African-born population has no problems with gang violence.
‘‘African youth gangs are not a problem in Shepparton. When you have all the wrap-around services that we have here — we don’t get these problems,’’ Ms Sheed said.
Her comments were supported by Insp Brittain.
‘‘Victoria Police has acknowledged that African youth are overly represented in youth crime, but that’s not the case in Shepparton due to our engagement with our community,” he said.
‘‘We see a lot of people from all backgrounds committing crime on a weekly basis, so it is not a race thing.’’
Ms Sheed said comments by federal politicians, including the Prime Minister, on African gang violence in Melbourne were not helpful.
‘‘It’s disappointing the way the argument is going. As we head into an election year — it’s being treated as a political football,’’ she said.
However, Ms Sheed said it was important to recognise gang violence and deal with it appropriately.
‘‘When serious things happen — you have to call it out,’’ she said.
‘‘People have to realise there are consequences when police are treated as a joke. But politicising it does not help.’’
She said while there was a problem with youth disengagement leading to crime in Shepparton, it was not unique to the African community.
Insp Brittain said the Shepparton police’s proactive unit, in partnership with multicultural and family violence officers, the Ethnic Council and African community leaders, helped stop issues developing locally.
He urged the community to continue to work with the government to avert people from crime.
‘‘It’s important to remember that what has been going on is a behavioural issue and not an ethnic issue,’’ he said.
St Paul’s African House manager Rosalie Muston said it was ‘‘only natural’’ difficulties arose as migrants adjusted to a new country, but the community had done well to support those in transition.
Ms Muston said refugees arriving in Australia often faced overwhelming struggles such as war and refugee camps, and, once in Australia, had to face concern about their family and friends, learning a new language, and adjusting to an entirely new culture.
She said the media had an important role to play in shaping positive attitudes towards Africans, as opposed to resorting to scaremongering.
‘‘The media focus on the involvement of a number of youth in gang violence is damaging to the large community of peaceful, hardworking African people striving to make lives for themselves and their families in Australia,’’ Ms Muston said.
‘‘It provides undeserving notoriety to the offenders and promotes fear in the general public.’’