I took this photograph on my run this morning after seeing my third or fourth one, sadly right near a children’s playground. This ‘South Sudanese’ gang seems to be everywhere. In the parks, lighting up our news headlines, holding up our cars, breaking into and entering our homes. Most Sudanese people probably have associations with them. Right?
Without researching, would you say that the Apex gang are pretty big? Earlier today I would have answered huge, but after doing some research I found that most of my assumptions were wrong. Big shocker there.
Most news sources manage to agree that at its peak the Apex gang contained around 130 members. Melbourne is currently home to 6007 Sudanese people. Which means that the Apex gang make up just 1.85% of the total Sudanese population. With statistics that low, it is ignorant to assume that ‘any African out there’ could be a member of Apex. You also might be interested to know that of the 2000 teenagers committing crimes in Victoria between October 2015 to September 2016, 1700 of them were born in Australia. So why aren’t we running scared from them?
One of the worst parts for me is that if I’m walking on a street at night and I see a group of young men walking towards me, sometimes I feel a twinge of fear if they are African looking. Because the thought that goes through my mind is, “Well, what if they are part of that violent minority?” Just my luck.
It is assumptions like these that can lead us to discriminate against perfectly innocent Sudanese people in the community, particularly young males. Where do we get our facts from? Do we even have any actual statistics? I know that before this week I haven’t even read one single article about the Apex gang and the way they’re ‘terrorising Melbourne’. All of my information was word of mouth, probably by people who themselves have already felt the cold fingers of anxiety creep over their shoulders and shiver down their back.
I’ve always known that the minority ruin it for the majority, but what I didn’t know until I actually read some articles is that the Apex gang contains several nationalities, including Australian, which the media largely ignores.
Other information that has reached me by word of mouth is the tough situations that Sudanese friends of mine have encountered just because of their ethnicity. If you think basic racial slurs in the schoolyard are all they’ve got to worry about, you’d be wrong. From being told to ‘get out of here’ while attempting to enter a workplace to start a shift, to being run away from when you needed help after locking your keys in your car, to assault in broad daylight on the way out of the school gates.
Several schools across the western suburbs of Melbourne have banned any ‘African looking’ people from gathering in groups of more than three because it ‘intimidates’ the other students. This is the kind of racial profiling that leads people to become even more prejudiced, and African young people to feel increasingly ostracised.
The Sunday Morning Herald referred to the Apex gang as a ‘lightning rod’ for racial violence (Michael Koziol) and The Saturday Paper claim that, “When not covered responsibly, hot topics such as race and immigration encourage discrimination against groups of people that are already marginalised” (Santilla Chingaipe).
Can you imagine what it’s like living in Melbourne as a South Sudanese young person with the shadow of the Apex gang looming over your shoulder? Sudanese all across our city are experiencing fear, suspicion and sometimes even outright rejection or hatred because of their ethnicity or fears that they may be violent, based on the actions of strangers, not their own. That shouldn’t sit alright with us.
Just to be clear, I am in no way downplaying the pain that victims of the Apex gang have suffered, merely trying to shed some light on the pain of another group of innocent victims.
Probably most of us when asked if we harbour racial prejudice would say no, but what does fearing a whole people group just because of a 1.8% gang say about us?
So when you come across people from any kind of ethnicity different to you, if their behaviour is normal and peaceful, give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they’re just a great person like you, trying to navigate life’s struggles and hoping that the world can see them for who they really are, not just the colour of their skin.
Sources (all found 15 June 2017):