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Race labels intensifying problem of youth crime: Archbishop

Issue of youth crime has become a polarising and emotional one, says Archbishop Freier

March 15 2018While youth crime in Melbourne is a genuine problem, discussion by media and politicians that focuses on race is intensifying the fears felt by both the general community and South Sudanese, according to Melbourne Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier.

In a public conversation at Federation Square with two South Sudanese community leaders titled "African appearance: Is youth crime out of control?", Archbishop Freier said the subject had become increasingly emotional, and polarising on many sides.

He said he was concerned that politicians might take advantage of community fears in the lead up to the Victorian election this year, and the next Federal election.

Dr Freier said the Sudanese community acknowledged a problem with some troubled youth, but the way politicians and the media were tackling the issue were increasing anxiety among victims of crime, the wider community and South Sudanese, who faced a backlash.

Young lawyer and social activist Nyadol Nyuon said she felt most politicians did not care about people who looked like her, and it was very sad that so many young people felt they could be used simply to get votes. “Very powerful people say very powerful things in very powerful media against people who can’t punch back.”

Ms Nyuon criticised media coverage of youth crime that highlighted racial factors, saying a Caucasian youth would committed a crime would be described as “a teenager from Noble Park”, for example, while crimes by Sudanese youth would highlight their race. The result was that Africans in general were seen as hostile and more likely to commit crimes.

“By making people seem ‘other’ and not part of society we are making the situation worse,” she said.

Anglican minister Chaplain Soma said prejudice against Africans, making it harder for Sudanese to get jobs, was a strong issue within the South Sudanese community. Many people with masters degrees were working as security guards.

“There are issues with young people, but they have come as a result of something that wrong somewhere at some time. The way it is portrayed in the media is disturbing the whole community, and we deal with the pain of that in the churches. The stresses in many cases leads to depression, so much that some people have been hospitalised.”