Far-right activists accused of ‘deliberately provoking’ young men at St Kilda Beach
Leaders from Melbourne’s African migrant communities have accused far-right activists of “deliberately provoking” young men at St Kilda Beach by filming them as they played football and refusing police requests to stop recording.
- The incident prompted a warning from the Police Minister against racism and inciting violence
- A Victorian Multicultural Commissioner says the activists should face consequences
- Right-wing activist defends his actions as those of an “independent journalist”
Neil Erikson, who has been convicted of inciting contempt towards Muslims, staged the video on Friday afternoon, when he led a group of activists recording around 15 young men on the foreshore.
They refused requests from the group and police to stop recording and a dispute broke out, during which police allege a 25-year-old man from the football-playing group assaulted an officer.
The incident prompted Police Minister Lisa Neville to warn that “racism itself does not make any of us safer”, and she urged the community to reject attempts to incite violence.
Victorian Multicultural Commissioner Mimmie Ngum Chi Watts said the incident appeared to be a deliberate attempt to provoke.
“I think it is really unfair and wrong for any group in a thriving multicultural society like ours to try and incite hatred or fear for one group against the other,” Dr Ngum Chi Watts said.
“However, you can also then take a step back and say ‘what has been the reporting when it came to people of colour in the last 12 months? And what are the implications?’ Some of what you are seeing is a result of all those sensational headlines.
“Those kids, irrespective of skin colour, had a right to be there, just like any other person on that beach. And what was really most upsetting was they were just going about their business.
“I don’t know any of them, but to me, they looked like … just a group of kids, like any other group in society, and they should feel safe.
“If we have people in our society like the gentleman who was filming and provoking that incident, I think they should not walk away freely, because what they were doing, they knew that it was wrong.”
Mr Erikson told the ABC on Saturday that his actions were those of an “independent journalist” and denied his filming was intended to incite violence.
Earlier this month, he commandeered the microphone on the stage of an African cultural event at Federation Square in order to declare “it’s OK to be white” — a phrase commonly used by white supremacists.
Last year he confronted former Labor senator Sam Dastyari in a Melbourne pub and called the Iran-born politician a “terrorist” and a “monkey”.
Dr Ngum Chi Watts said the activists should face consequences over the incident. (ABC News: Joseph Dunstan)
Dr Ngum Chi Watts said the Australian community must understand that no ethnic group is predisposed to commit crime due to its culture.
She said this does not mean excusing violent crimes committed by individuals, but working as a community to focus on the issues driving youth crime.
“All these youth are part of our society, so we have to deal with them as a collective, rather than racialising the issues. And at the moment I think there’s a lot of racialisation of the incidents.
“If someone has committed a crime, it is important to try them before the law … but be mindful that we have got people in our society that are more disadvantaged than others.”
Right-wing activists criticised as ‘un-Australian’
Abeselmon Nega, who is the CEO of not-for-profit youth refugee services organisation iEmpower, said Mr Erikson’s actions were “un-Australian”.
“I am disappointed and shocked to hear that a group of people would deliberately provoke a group of African youth,” he said.
“We know that the actions of the very far right do not represent the views of Victorians.
“The last thing we want is people who want to divide us along races and religions … it is totally unacceptable and it looks as if the actions of the far right in this state seem to be imported from elsewhere.”
African-Australians report experiencing racism in public
Nigerian-born community leader Bode Muse, who has lived in Melbourne for five years, said the incident was a clear example of someone “prodding” the young men to get them to react.
“We have seen similar situations where you have people just provoking the youth, making racial comments that they know will get a reaction,” Mr Muse said.
“It’s obviously someone deliberately provoking a reaction from the African youth.”
Mr Muse, who works as an education consultant, has organised two community events in Melbourne’s western suburbs this year to discuss the stigma around youth crime, after he was alarmed by social media posts calling for vigilante action.
Bode Muse said many people in Melbourne’s African community have stories about feeling targeted in public spaces. (ABC News: Joseph Dunstan)
He said he is concerned that the media’s reporting on youth crime in Melbourne was fuelling racist attitudes.
Mr Muse said he recently caught a taxi from the airport with his wife and young child, and the driver immediately asked him whether he would pay his fare by cash or card.
“I just kind of told him ‘it’s ok mate, I’ll pay you with card’ … I had to reassure him, more than any passenger would have to do,” he said.
“Reassure him that ‘look, I’m not one of those people who are giving you trouble in the past, I just want to get home’.”
Mr Muse said the driver kept pushing him to go to a nearby ATM and withdraw cash for the fare.
“I felt really harassed … He asked me ‘what did I do for work’, he was trying to size me up … It’s almost like I was filling out a questionnaire to prove that I was a passenger worth giving service to. It’s appalling.”
‘It’s just too much effort’
He said another friend from an African migrant background had experienced racial profiling while he was crossing the street to do some grocery shopping.
“A lady who was inside her car saw him crossing the road, she told her child to run back into the car, she locked the car, scared that he was going to attack them,” Mr Muse said.
He said a second friend who enjoys jogging at night now avoids wearing a hoodie to keep warm in winter because of the reactions of some people on the footpath.
“People would turn to see if he was running out of a building, or running out of a shop or something,” Mr Bode said.
“It’s just too much effort … you have to go to to just make sure people know you are sincere, you mean no harm. It’s just frustrating.”
“There are unwritten codes you have to live by to ensure you are not threatening to anyone in society.”