Members of the African community in Melbourne and Judge Peter Kidd speak out about
Members of the African community in Melbourne and Judge Peter Kidd speak out about "gang" violence. Picture: ABC Four Corners

Judge weighs in on African crime

HOW bad is the African youth crime problem in Melbourne? It depends who you ask, according to a Melbourne judge.

Last week, several media outlets reported on the bashing of two men at St Kilda.

In the first incident, 15 or more youths, described be the victims as being of African appearance, kicked and punched a young chef as many as 50 times because he would not give them a cigarette.

Within the hour, the same group set upon another man. They wore knuckledusters and broke a bottle over his head.

The story was covered by most media outlets, but critics say it adds to hysteria around African crime in Melbourne.

Judge Peter Kidd, one of Victoria's most senior legal minds, will tonight appear on a Four Corners report claiming reporting on crimes committed by African youths "gives an inaccurate portrayal" of the overall picture of crime in Victoria.

"If you are an African offender, and certainly if you're an African youth of South Sudanese background from the western suburbs of Melbourne, rest assured your case will be reported upon," he said.

"The media choose to report upon those cases. That creates an impression that we, that our work, a very significant proportion of our work, is taken up with African youths from the western suburbs of Melbourne. That's a false impression."

The ABC reports that people born in Sudan make up 0.1 per cent of Victoria's population, but account for 1 per cent of alleged criminal activity in Victoria. Of those, young Sudanese males commit close to 10 per cent of all aggravated burglaries.

Judge Kidd says criticism that judges are "too soft" on young offenders is also problematic.

"Judges don't simply pick numbers from nowhere when we come to sentence," he told the program.

"What the community's not told are the other factors which the judge, by law, was required to take into account, such as the fact that he was a first-time offender, or the fact that he's got great prospects of rehabilitation, or the fact that he's complied with all other court orders on bail.

"It's often those factors are pushed to the back or not mentioned at all."

Four Corners also spoke to members of the South Sudanese community in Melbourne, many of whom were born here and feel like the have to overcompensate for the way they are perceived.

"Every day I have to convince you I'm Australian," one young male said.

"We know we're Australian. We grew up here. Why should I have to convince you I'm Australian?"

The African community in Melbourne has been critical of a number of reports in recent months. In July, Channel 7's Sunday Night program was labelled "racist" for a story promising to shine the light on "African gangs running riot, terrorising, robbing, wreaking havoc".

Community leaders from South Sudan claimed members of their community were being treated like "criminals".

"Africans love this country as much as any other Australian and have no interest to harm others," Melbourne-based lawyer Maker Mayek wrote on Twitter.

Members of the African community were so enraged by the story they "declared war on Channel 7" and organised a protest at the network's Melbourne headquarters.

Four Corners airs on the ABC at 8.30pm on Monday.