Q & A: ‘We’ve been made to feel like criminals’
POLICE brutality such as that seen last week with the release of CCTV footage of a disability pensioner allegedly being pinned down, beaten with a baton, capsicum sprayed, then hosed by Victorian police is nothing new for African migrants, ABC's Q & A heard on Monday night.
In a show filmed in Victoria's Dandenong, against a background of long-running unrest over African crime "gangs" in some areas of Melbourne, host Virginia Trioli summed up the mood perfectly when she said the debate was "tricky".
"There are a series of truths sitting in this room. It is true if you experience that home invasion and that violence it's unforgettable. It is true the people have been stereotyped and typecast. It's true there are some young Sudanese boys and young men who are disenfranchised and who have engaged in violent behaviour."
But amid the debate, the experiences of lawyer and community advocate Nyadol Nyuon, originally from South Sudan, had some home truths.
Amid the fear and the fearmongering, she has told her own brothers to keep a low profile in public, "because I'm afraid that unfortunately things can get really bad".
"I don't want to dismiss the fact there have been people who have been victims of crime," she said.
"If you've got someone invading your home, a safe space, that's a dramatic thing.
"I don't think the majority of those people are racist or extremists, I think they're just afraid."
Ms Nyuon said she understood the fear, but "for the victims of crime and for the African community, that kind of fearmongering is not a solution".
"If you've watched television for the last few months, you'll have pictures of black African young people splash across your screen over and over again," she said.
"You've been told we're in the midst of a crisis, that we can't go to restaurants".
She said many African migrants were also afraid, and questioning their own safety amid the debate. But she said being afraid wasn't a solution and being treated like criminals could cost people their lives.
"What some people don't understand is for the majority of African people this has been a really tough time," she said.
"It's been a time where we've questioned whether we can be safe going to shopping centres.
"We've been made to feel like criminals.
"I give advice to my young brothers who are very tall boys, because I'm afraid the three of them walking together constitute a gang.
"I tell them to behave nicely and dress nicely and minimise their presence in public because I'm afraid that unfortunately things can get really bad, particularly when we've had at least in Victoria far right groups coming out and saying they will take things into their own hands."
POLICE PROBLEM OF TRUST
Meanwhile, Victoria Police Commander Stuart Bateson - a top cop tipped to be a future police assistant commissioner - said there was a need for a more diverse police force, to help minority groups trust police.
"If there's not great trust ... then they don't necessarily see that they've want to work for us," he said.
Touching on last week's police brutality claims, he said since 2010, 210 police had left the force in Victoria while under investigation, and 26 had been sacked - "so we do have an accountability framework that works".
"It's a tough job. When I started 30 years ago, I think it was a bit easier for frontline police.
"And I look at our people today and they're starting every working day by putting on a bulletproof vest. And it might be the day they need it," he said.
Ms Nyuon said police had tried to address some of the "significant issues" between the Victorian Police and some African communities "but I don't think that police investigating police really strikes a lot of confidence."
"For the African community ... these stories of brutality are not new to us," she said.
"There was a survey done by Monash University which indicated 80 per cent of the population have a lot of trust in the police and I think that reflects respect for the police.
"But for people from South Sudanese background, that is as low as 26 per cent."
Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge said he took his hat off to the police force.
"There's going to be bad eggs there, as there are in any organisation and it's particularly important to weed them out in the Victorian police or any other police force," he said.
"But you would have heard from police officers on the ground as well who say they have young people and know exactly what the rules are.
"They'll go straight up to the line in relation to the police officers and not treat them
with the respect which they deserve."
Later, Tudge said the English language is "the common glue" that binds communities in Australia and pockets of migrants who do not speak it "fail to effectively integrate".
Defending moves to introduce a higher standard of English required of new migrants, he said while it was natural for migrants to tend to cluster together with family and friends, it made it harder for them to engage with wider Australian society, which could lead to serious social issues.