Gangs have long formed part of our national identity.
From the Kelly Gang to Middle Eastern crime gangs, for generations of Australians gangs are nothing new.
But when used to describe crime, the word ‘gang’ creates alarm. Accounts of ‘gang rape’ and ‘gang violence’ stir up strong emotions.
Recently, the reprisal attacks following the Cronulla riots, and warring outlaw motorcycle clubs in Western Australia have seen gangs get top billing with politicians and the press.
And the police are paying attention too. In May this year the NSW Police Force set up a permanent Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad to deal with criminal gangs in Sydney’s western suburbs. And in WA, bikies say the Gangs Crime Unit there is making life unbearably difficult for them.
On Insight we ask how prevalent gang culture is in Australia, and question whether the public concern is justified.
JENNY BROCKIE: In NSW, some young Muslims are concerned enough to call in an unusual helper from the United States. Here's Sascha Kolov.
REPORTER: Sashka Koloff
NAPOLEON: Australians are nice guys. G'day mate. G'day mate.
A small youth centre in Sydney's western suburbs is not a place you'd expect to find a former American gangster rapper. But Napoleon has a captive audience here.
NAPOLEON: I seen, you know, like I said, of course, murder, drug selling, stolen cars and all that stuff which you all think is common, in America you think that's normal, you see people getting shot left and right, you know what I mean?
Napoleon was a close friend of murdered rap superstar Tupac Shakur. He also reportedly had ties to the notorious LA gang the Bloods who have been responsible for thousands of gang killings in America. In recent years, he's given up that life to follow his faith.
NAPOLEON: That's one of the reasons I'm out here, to try to talk to the youth and really explain to them that they run into a lifestyle that even the Bloods and the Crips in America is trying to run away from. Yeah, that was hard, you know what I mean, that was hard.
REPORTER: What have you heard about gangs in Australia?
NAPOLEON: I heard they're killing each other. I read something on the news, Australian news or something. It was touching up on some of the kids, I forgot the name of the young brothers, but they was Muslims and they were just dying left and right and going to jail, pulling guns out for no reason. I heard it's to a point where they see another person looking at them they want to shoot them. I'm like, “This is crazy, man.” I gotta be honest, man, the people – they brung this on themselves, the Middle Eastern people. That's why they got the cop, they brung it on themselves.
FADI-ABDUL RAHMAN, ICRA YOUTH CENTRE: That's what we're here to tell our boys, that you need to snap out of it. Enough is enough. If the police wants to take these actions and that's how they feel that they need to deal with it, you need to step up as well and start changing yourself and stop doing what you're doing. That's why we're calling this tour, especially, that's why we've called it All Eyez on Youth…
Fadi Abdul Rahman is the man behind Napoleon's visit to Australia. As president of a youth centre in Sydney's west, he's trying to curb the escalating violence in his community. In March this year, two of his friends – boxer Bassam Chami and Ibrahim Assaad – were shot dead on a Sydney street. He's hoping Napoleon's visit will make an impact.
FADI ABDUL-RAHMAN: We said we have to do something because after the double shooting was too much for us to see our boys deciding to take each other out. It is only adequate for us to get up and do something. We looked around and we found someone such as Napoleon and his music because Tupac had died and we see our boys and a lot of young boys trying to live that lifestyle which Napoleon had spoken about. We said, “Why not?”
The best idea is to bring them someone who had lived that lifestyle and changed his life and try to make them understand that you're going down the wrong lane.
On a recent Friday night at a Sydney sports centre, 2,000 young Muslims sat listening to their rap hero talk about his life.
NAPOLEON: We look around us, we turning our back on our religion. We're turning our back on the Koran and the Sunna which is a beautiful thing, man. So the people to blame is ourselves, man. There's no-one to blame but ourselves.
Napoleon's message to these boys is clear – stop emulating the gangster lifestyle and follow your faith.
NAPOLEON: Please run back to your religion, man. Please let's run back to our religion. Let's practise our religion according to the Koran the Lebanese communities are strong brothers, man. Y'all have so much power and so much will and so much strength, we just using it for the wrong reasons.
But setting these young Muslims on a positive path is difficult.
FADI ABDUL-RAHMAN: We've dealt with these kids and we were in their position not long ago. You come hard on the kids and they're just going to retaliate harder. You think you've got an iron fist, can you be with these kids 24/7? I don't think so. Sorry to tell the police there's still drive-bys, there's still killings, right, and there's still – the use of hand guns is at its highest. Now if they want to turn around and say “What we're doing to do is clamp up on these kids, round them up like a bunch of sheep, and lock them up and that will solve the problem,” news flash – these kids are born and raised every single day. You're going to have a lot of kids in jail and what are we creating? What kind of society? What kind of nation are we moulding for the future?
JENNY BROCKIE: Well, Fadi, you've acknowledged there that there is a real problem. What's fueling it, what's fuelling the violence that we've been seeing?
FADI ABDUL-RAHMAN: I mean, there's a number of issues. Obviously, it's not only one thing. One is unemployment, low education levels, low self-esteem, you know, it can go on forever. There's a lot of issues that are within our community.
JENNY BROCKIE: But we've seen those problems before, haven't we, you know, in other generations we've seen those problems, and we haven't necessarily seen drive-by shootings and handguns at the level that you describe them. Why do you think it's gotten to that point this time?
FADI ABDUL-RAHMAN: I mean, obviously, you know, the copycat style where these kids are trying to relate to someone and the only one that they see fit that they can relate to is African Americans in America and they're trying to copycat them, they're trying to be like them.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why do they want to be like them?
FADI ABDUL-RAHMAN: We feel that these youngsters feel that they've been marginalised within Australia. The place that they're supposed to be calling home they can't call home because one – I still remember –
JENNY BROCKIE: But African American home isn't home either. I mean, why do you think they're relating to that particular culture?
FADI ABDUL-RAHMAN: That's why the connection is there, that's why the connection is there because they feel that the way the African Americans have been dealt with in the States it's exactly the way the Lebanese, supposedly Australian Lebanese, have been dealt with in Australia, so they feel a connection.
JENNY BROCKIE: So they feel identify strongly with African Americans?
FADI ABDUL-RAHMAN: Yes, and they feel strongly with them because the movies that we see and the music that comes across is, you know, them against the world, you know, within the African community in America and it's them against the police so these kids are feeling that they can relate to these people, they can identify with these people. And I hold the entire society, the Australian society responsible for that because what we keep doing is pushing these kids in the corner and keep pointing the finger and saying, “This is who you are, this is your identity.” and we constantly keep giving them an identity which doesn't belong to them. We need to give them a chance so they can develop their own identity.
JENNY BROCKIE: Napoleon, how do you feel about them identifying with that aspect of African American culture, the gangland culture? I mean, you expressed concern about it there in the film.
NAPOLEON: Yes, from talking to the youth out here, they don't feel like they're fittin' in. They don't feel like they're accepted. This is from a lot of the youngsters out here. They say they feel the racism, the tension is there, and they told me this from their heart, you know what I mean? I believe that, you know, we've gotta realise that racism do exist and that's something that we can't just keep putting behind our shoulder.
JENNY BROCKIE: We'll get on to a bit of that a bit later, but Ken McKay, I'd like to bring you in at this point. You head up the Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad in NSW – that's what it's called. How worried are you about gang violence?
KEN McKAY, NSW POLICE: I suppose if we can just settle for what a gang – the term the 'gang' – you know, it's a very much a media-presented term. We look at different groups of criminals. And the groups of criminals of some level of Middle Eastern heritage are quite a significant problem in this city and thus the formation of the Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad which is there to tackle crime committed by those persons of Middle Eastern heritage or crimes committed upon people of Middle Eastern heritage.
JENNY BROCKIE: So are we talking about gangs in a sense of groups of young people or are we talking about organised crime or are we talking about both?
KEN McKAY: The Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad has quite a wide charter. At the top, we do look at organised crime groups or organised crime gangs, whichever you want to call it, but we also have a very great interest in addressing the groups involved in lesser crimes because there is a distinct link between those people and, if they're not addressed, they'll move up the levels of crime. We've seen that time and time again. We need to address it at both levels.
JENNY BROCKIE: Now your squad doubled in size in May this year, is that right?
KEN McKAY: It was created in May this year, but it is probably double the normal size squad.
JENNY BROCKIE: But it was born out of – yeah, so it's effectively doubled in size?
KEN McKAY: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why?
KEN McKAY: Well, government and the police senior executive have identified through intelligence and through other parts of information out there over a number of years now, that the level of crime, and you've seen it on the media, large numbers of people killed, shootings and the like, again – offences committed in the main against other members of the Middle Eastern community – the level of crime warrants the size of the squad.
JENNY BROCKIE: Malcolm Kerr, you're the Liberal member for Cronulla in Sydney's south where we saw some awful violence late last year from all kinds of people really, not just people from Middle Eastern extraction. Do you think the police are doing enough?
MALCOLM KERR, NSW LIBERAL MP: Well, I think the first thing you have to say is that the criminal law applies to everybody, whatever their background. If people commit criminal offences then they have to be dealt with according to the criminal law. I've been saying for quite some time, and this is an argument with the Government and not with the police, that police numbers weren't adequate in Cronulla and that's led to a build-up in tension.
JENNY BROCKIE: Let me just cut to the chase here in terms of the media coverage and the way politicians are playing this – is the problem Middle Eastern gangs in your view, is that the way you see it as a politician?
MALCOLM KERR I see it as a breakdown to some extent. What we saw there was a breakdown in law and order. You had people that behaved badly on the Sunday, fuelled often by drink, they committed assaults. What we saw on the Monday and the Tuesday nights was retaliation raids where a man was stabbed, where people were bashed. Now nobody can justify that.
JENNY BROCKIE: But that doesn't answer my question about the way it's being played politically. I mean, we're hearing a lot more emphasis politically on this idea of Middle Eastern crime squads than we are about chasing people who might have been involved in the other assaults.
MALCOLM KERR: No, we didn't, because in fact the number of people that were involved in the assaults on the Sunday, large numbers of those were arrested, so what I'm saying is there were crimes committed by people of different backgrounds. Now, we know, as Superintendent McKay has just said, that Middle Eastern crime is a problem and many of the victims of that Middle Eastern crime are people of Middle Eastern heritage.
JENNY BROCKIE: Fadi, how do you feel about the way the debate's being conducted at the moment?
FADI ABDUL-RAHMAN: Look, I mentioned before we go back to the Bureau of Crime Statistics, right – '98 to 2002. They say that in the local areas of Bankstown, right, the crime rate for theft, break and enters, assaultWHERE it had declined or been stabilising.
JENNY BROCKIE: But you're also concerned. I mean, we saw how concerned you are. You brought Napoleon out here, so there's definitely an issue.
FADI ABDUL-RAHMAN: Definitely, I am concerned – no, there is an issue across the board with youth and that's why our tour was called All Eyez on Youth. It wasn't called All Eyez on Middle Eastern Youth. It was called All Eyez on Youth because I have a different number of youth that comes through the youth centre, not only of Middle Eastern background but also of Asian, Australian, Caucasians of many different backgrounds, and they have exactly the same problems. We've got a general problem with youth in Sydney.
JENNY BROCKIE: Nader, you were once the leader of a gang in your area known as the Marrickville Legends, I think – is that right?
NADER HAMDEN: No, I wasn't a leader of no gang. There was no gang. We were just a bunch of young guys living in the same area. And the media labelled us as a gang and, you know, as young kids, I was 15, 16 years at the time, and as a young kid and like the young kids that are living today they want to live up to a name. The media are just pushing and pushing and pushing.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how did you live up to the name? Did you try and live up to the name?
NADER HAMDEN: Well, you know, about – always, as everyone knows, about being part of a gang and when you're named a gang you've got to do things that are going to be the toughest and baddest people in your city. So that's what these young guys are doing.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is that what you did when you were young?
NADER HAMDEN: That's basically what I did. I got labelled something and I wanted to live up to that label and we wanted to be the baddest guys around, that's what it's about.
JENNY BROCKIE: But what did it mean in terms of what you did, being the baddest guys around?
NADER HAMDEN: There was no holds barred, just whatever, whatever goes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Now a close friend of yours was killed in that double shooting we heard mentioned in that story. Can you explain to me and to the people watching this, how it gets to the point where something like that can happen?
NADER HAMDEN: I've got no clue, to be honest with you. Something clicks. They lose their brain, they lose their mind and just things happen, that of course everyone regrets and that's what it is, it's a split-second thing.
FADI ABDUL-RAHMAN: You have a combination of drug use, you have a combination of easy access to guns and this goes back instead of the government setting up these task force to deal with a certain group of people, then let's start setting up other things where we can educate the kidsWHERE we can tell them about these crimes.
JENNY BROCKIE: But Nader, just getting back to how those kind of things can happen. I mean, when they happen, is it just a – I guess what I'm interested in trying to get a sense of is does it tip over easily into that kind of serious violence, do you think?
NADER HAMDEN: Tips over very easily, tips over very easily. Right now, like they've got their backs up against the wall, everyone's looking at 'em and it's just you snap, you crack, you know, you snap and you can't control it sometimes. You lose total control.
JENNY BROCKIE: You lose total control?
NADER HAMDEN: You lose total control.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you ever feel like that?
NADER HAMDEN: You know, I felt a lot of things, but we're right.
KEN McKAY: Guys, I want to just ask you a question. If you look at recent times over the last three or four years you've seen a large number of, say, family groups taking on each other, quite violently, a number of murders, shootings, why does that happen? You know, you have all the brothers and including Dad and all the brothers over here including Dad and Mum and the wider family really committing serious, serious acts of violence upon each other, same race of people, you know, and in a number of instances same religious background, you know, it's very difficult to understand and again – the public sees that…
JENNY BROCKIE: Do any of the boys want to answer that?
MAN: Why is it always Lebanese or Middle Eastern people from our background are always focused on? There are those from Anglo-Australians who also have domestic problems, who also commit crimes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Ken McKay, why the emphasis at the moment? Why so many police? Why the emphasis on this particular group on the community in Sydney?
KEN McKAY: Basically because the level of crime demands this level of response.
MICHAEL KENNEDY, UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN SYDNEY: That's absolutely nonsense. That's absolute nonsense. In New York in 1990 there were 2,500-odd murders. This State has embraced the same strategies for dealing with crime that New York has used. In this State, we have 50 murders a year. In New York, they have a population of about 9 million, this State has a population of about 6 million. You can't – crime has dropped for the last five years in a row. We don't even come near what's happened in New York and so why is this State insisting on a New York solution to these problems?
KEN McKAY: Again, I don't know what a New York solution is.
MICHAEL KENNEDY: Of course you do, Ken, don't say that!
KEN McKAY: What is it?
JENNY BROCKIE: Like a zero tolerance approach?
KEN McKAY: We're nowhere near a zero tolerance approach in this State.
MICHAEL KENNEDY: Of course they are. They just label it different names, they call it different things…
JENNY BROCKIE: Michael, are you saying there isn't a problem? Fadi's acknowledging there's a problem in some sections of the community.
MICHAEL KENNEDY: Fadi acknowledges there's a problem but he's not saying it's an epidemic.
FADI ABDUL-RAHMAN: Not to the extent that they're dealing with it, right? Why the taskforce was set up? It was to deal with crimes that are obviously not exclusive only to the Middle Eastern community – they're across the board. What I'm acknowledging is that we have a problem across the board with youth and the approach that we've been getting from the police and also from the State and Federal Government is zero tolerance, like the gentleman had said here. The way they're dealing with us is horrific.
JENNY BROCKIE: What I'd like to do is broaden the discussion out a little bit at this point and bring you in – Rob White, in Perth – because so far we've been talking very much about Sydney. You've done the first major study of youth gangs in Australia, how widespread and diverse are they and how much are they linked to violence?
DR ROB WHITE, UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE: Well, I think the key thing is that gangs exist in some form or another in every city in the country but what we mean by 'gang' has to be treated very carefully. What we're really talking about in most cases is groups of young men who hang around together and who occasionally will engage in street fights and that kind of thing, but basically we don't have that kind of stereotypical US-style gang in this country at all. What we also find is that in places like Sydney is it's not just Middle Eastern people, Lebanese young people, but there's a whole wide variety of young people who gather together, they congregate together, they occasionally get into street fights but it's not unique to any one particular group.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, Les Twentyman, can I bring you in too. You're a youth worker in Melbourne's western suburbs, are gangs a problem there?
LES TWENTYMAN, YOUTH WORKER, OPEN FAMILY: Yep, and it's not Middle Eastern, it's right across the board. I mean, the focus on youth. It's the same things – it's unemployment, poor education. The Macquarie Fields situation can blow up in so many different towns around this country because for so long we've accepted the fact that we're going to have kids just being thrown onto the scrap heap with no jobs. One of the big issues down in Melbourne at the moment is young school kids in gangs carrying knives and also, we're having a lot of trouble with some newly arrives from Africa. I mean, these kids are coming from war zones, they've seen atrocities, they're not getting jobs, their families are disjointed because of the problems and all of a sudden we turn our backs and just turn our backs and say, “Assimilate.” Well they can't assimilate. They go back to their fundamentals of trying to survive and sadly, with the money that's involved in drugs, they can't get work, then they get involved and they become, you know, caught up in the drug culture.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, so what are the rallying points for gangs, what are the things they gather around in terms of commonality?
LES TWENTYMAN: One is about territory. I mean, I was caught up in a gang fight last night where I got slightly injured myself. But, you know, it's about that –
JENNY BROCKIE: Not as a gang member presumably.
LES TWENTYMAN: Not as a gang member, only a razor gang member, that's all part of the bureaucracy. But, you know, it's basically about drug dealing but it's also about safety. Kids don't feel safe, so they go around in their ethnic groups. We always put 'em into the poor areas and then we wonder why we have these problems.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, Rick Scupham, can I bring you in at this point because you're a detective with the Western Australian Organised Crime Unit. What's the biggest worry for you in WA in terms of gangs?
RICK SCUPHAM, WA POLICE: The street gangs aren't that organised at the moment, they don't have a true structure over there. They are involved in criminal activity, there is violence and we've had murders in South-East Asian gangs. We're more concerned with the outlaw motorcycle gangs in real terms.
JENNY BROCKIE: The motorcycle gangs and how big a problem are they for you in terms of crime?
RICK SCUPHAM: We consider them as a very well-established criminal network involved in drug distribution, prostitution and gun trafficking.
JENNY BROCKIE: And they don't gather around ethnicity, do they?
RICK SCUPHAM: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: No, they gather around motorcycles.
RICK SCUPHAM: Yes, and sometimes even that they fly under the radar, they don't actually like to involve or put themselves in the front of police while they're conducting their criminal activities, in any event.
JENNY BROCKIE: Art Veno, you've looked at these groups very closely, what do you think about them and what do you think about the discussion so far? Are there common problems in the way that –
ART VENO, BIKIE EXPERT, AUTHOR: There certainly is, Jenny. I think one of the fundamental questions is in the policing line, getting back to earlier comments, is does targeting a group as a problem by the police, I believe that's politically driven, but it increases that group's feeling of alienation. It increases that group's feeling of being rejected.
JENNY BROCKIE: But what else do you do if they're committing crimes?
ART VENO: Well, first off, you don't form a specialist group to define them as a criminal problem. It's as these gentlemen here are saying, what the heart of the matter is, why people join those clubs is to obtain a sense of belonging, a sense of family, a sense of understanding, a sense of acceptance that they're not getting through the channels we currently offer.
JENNY BROCKIE: Gentleman there, yes.
MAN: Just want to make the point that Middle Eastern people didn't invent gangs and I think Australia has had gangs through some form or other and I think, you know, of ethnic background that I've been, for – you know, day one, we had Italian gangs, we had Yugoslav gangs, we had Greek gangs, we had all that sort of stuff, we've been through all that.
JENNY BROCKIE: I'd like to get back to the point that was raised just now about belonging, about a sense of belonging which seems to have struck a chord with a few people here in terms of all the different types of groups we're talking about. Samuel, you were in a gang called the Bloods, is that right?
JENNY BROCKIE: Now the Bloods were modelled on the US Bloods, which we heard about earlier, who were involved in some pretty heavy stuff, killing and all sorts of things in America, the enemy of another gang called the Crips, is that right?
JENNY BROCKIE: What was the appeal for you and why did you take those names when the history of those gangs was so violent in America? What was the appeal of being like them?
SAMUEL: Because back in New Zealand, eh, we used to see around us, we used to see the Bloods, the Samoan Bloods, used to walk around our area when we were just little kids and as we grew up, we just wanted to be in there.
JENNY BROCKIE: You wanted to be like them?
JENNY BROCKIE: And what were they doing, were they into violent crime in New Zealand?
SAMUEL: They're all using machetes and that, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: And you watched them as a young kid. And why did you want to be like them and not like somebody else?
ROMES: I wasn't actually trying to be like them. It was more of just growing up and like we were into it, we knew them, you know, just growing up with them like hanging around with them and we just with them, you know, it's not because we wanted to be like them. There's just, you know, it was just us. Everyone has their own say, you know, no-one came and held our hands and said “Join the Bloods,” you know. We just did it, you know….
JENNY BROCKIE: But the thing I'm interested in, Romes, is why it was attractive to you, what it was that you liked about that kind of life, what it was that you liked about being like that?
ROMES: It was nothing we liked about it.
JENNY BROCKIE: There wasn't anything?
ROMES: It was just normal. You could say it was natural sort of, you know. Yeah, it was sort of natural, hey, because we grew up in the area like that, you know. We were rough, we were hard, hey. And yeah, I mean, our parents and that they were down, they were good to us, like, no doubt about that, but like yeah, I mean I'm not blaming them because it's no-one's fault, hey, it's just us. Everyone has their own decisions hey, everyone makes their own decisions, so…
JENNY BROCKIE: So what kinds of things were normal for the Bloods? What sorts of things were normal?
ROMES: I would prefer if I don't get into that sort of thing. Oh but going back to –
JENNY BROCKIE: No, I want to stick with this for a minute.
ROMES: Can I just say one thing!
JENNY BROCKIE: Because I want actually want to get a handle on what is normal when you're in a group like that, I mean, I'm really interested in that, Samuel.
ROMES: I want to say one thing. What the cop said that we were in like Middle Eastern gangs and other gangs, we're not that organised as well as, I mean as hard as the bikie gangs. But to me, that's sort of like a put down to us, hey, like saying we're not capable of doing that kind of stuff. So them focusing on the motorcycle gangs you know, they're just putting us down. It's that kind of attitude, it's that kind of attitude why people turn to the street after being put down like that.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, so that's a put-down to say you're not –
ROMES: No, I'm not saying that is, it's sort of like that, man, you hear that stuff at home, all you do is just turn to the street. That's it, you know, that's when you go and do that kind of stuff, you just hearing that stuff, you know, like, like…
JENNY BROCKIE: We're not tough enough.
ROMES: Yeah, that's right, that's the kind of stuff that make people turn their back on their families and stuff, you know.
KEN McKAY: I was the commander of the gang squad so I've got a little bit of an understanding.
MAN: You should have an understanding of that.
KEN McKAY: I'm totally understanding, but I know exactly how the gangs work, and there's a wide variety of different styles of gangs, types of gang, structures of gangs and the like. But one thing I do have a great deal of problem with is understanding groups of people of same race, same background, same like, just blowing each other away. Now when that's occurring, the NSW community needs –
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, well let's get an answer. Romes, what's your response to that when a cop says that to you – when a cop says to you, says that to you, what's your answer back? He can't understand why people blow one another away.
ROMES: Oh, you ask me that? I wouldn't do that.
JENNY BROCKIE: I'm only asking you because you were talking before, I'm not asking you because I'm suggesting you're going to turn around and do it now.
ROMES: Like I said, we are capable, if we wanted to, you know. If we wanted to do it we could man. Everyone's capable of doing anything, you know, if they put their mind to it. But like I said, you know, because I'm a rapper, I can honestly say I'm a rapper, hey, but it's people like that that make people like me want to rap about what they're talking about and what they say to me or my friends or whatever. So that's what I do, man.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, what I'm getting from you is the sense that reputation becomes very important.
JENNY BROCKIE: Being tough and having a reputation. Yeah, Napoleon.
NAPOLEON: In Australia, because I'm American, I want to know, there's never in history a white man or white race ever killed each other in Australia?
KEN McKAY: Oh, very much so. Of course. There would be instances of that.
NAPOLEON: So are you going to try and get a crime a gang force for these guys?
KEN McKAY: Those incidences are quite rare –
NAPOLEON: They're quite what? They're quite rare. But there's a period of time –
MAN: But that's not what the statistics say.
KEN McKAY: No but, the current –
JENNY BROCKIE: They're not quite rare, Ken, of white people killing one another.
NAPOLEON: You guys are the majority so it cannot be quite rare, that makes no sense.
KEN McKAY: In relation to what you were saying in the pre-recorded part there that raised interest is, you kept saying you have brought that on yourself, what did you mean by that?
NAPOLEON: I was saying as a Muslim, as Muslims we don't s'posed to drink, we're don't s'posed to smoke. We don't s'posed to do these things. So I say this is a type of stuff why it's defeatin' yourself and hurtin' yourself an bringing intoxication on your body and stuff like that. But killing each other, doing stuff like that man, this happens all around the world. I can't – we can't just say, “OK, only Lebanese people kill each only Caucasians, Africans, Samoans…” because since I've been to Australia, these people gave me the best hospitality that I've ever seen, I don't even see this in my own country. And I don't see no gang members out here.
JENNY BROCKIE: I'd like to get back to understanding some of the ideas behind these groupings though and the whole idea of what it is that appeals to people about getting into a group where they get to the point they do commit crime. Now Mahmoud, tell us what you've been involved in in the past. You've been in jail, yeah?
MAHMOUD SABRA: Yeah, I was in jail, but I've been involved in a lot actually.
JENNY BROCKIE: What were you in jail for?
MAHMOUD SABRA: Oh, armed robbery.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how did you get to the point where that happened?
MAHMOUD SABRA: Oh, just left school, looking for work, couldn't get work, hanging around the wrong crowd. If I did get a job, I would get fired not because I was – I know I was a good worker, but it's because of who I was, Lebanese Muslim, and so I just turned to crime. I needed to get money somehow, help my family.
JENNY BROCKIE: Just – I'd like to stick with this for a minute, yeah, go on.
MAHMOUD SABRA: Help out the family, you know what I mean. Yeah. So yeah. That's about it.
JENNY BROCKIE: But plenty of people have a tough time in life and they don't necessarily end up doing armed robs, why do you think you did?
MAHMOUD SABRA: I just needed the money, man.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did that seem normal to you, a normal thing to do in the end?
MAHMOUD SABRA: At the time it did. I was hanging around the wrong crowd, like I said, listening to the wrong music.
JENNY BROCKIE: How important was your reputation to you?
MAHMOUD SABRA: At the time it was very important.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what did that mean? What did you have to do to have a reputation?
MAHMOUD SABRA: To have a reputation? Just respect and –
JENNY BROCKIE: So what brought you a reputation with those boys, what kind of things gave you a good reputation in a group?
MAHMOUD SABRA: To do what you have to do.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what was that?
MAHMOUD SABRA: Keep your head up, don't listen to no-one, do what you want to do.
JIMMY JIHAD: I think the problem is where once they can't fit into society and they have troubles getting a job, I think they turn to their friends more than they turn to their family or – and crime might be a part of that, hanging around the streets, getting up to mischief.
JENNY BROCKIE: And is that your experience, is that your story as well?
JIMMY JIHAD: Yeah, I did have a bit of a problem as a teenager, but yeah, pretty much I've turned to my religion more or less and I've come good.
JENNY BROCKIE: When you say you had a bit of a problem, what do you mean?
JIMMY JIHAD: Same as Mahmoud. I was hanging around the wrong people, the wrong crowd. I couldn't mix in with my Australian friends because I didn't fit in with them, so I felt isolated and I think a lot of the youth feel like that too and a lot of my friends still feel like that.
FADI ABDUL-RAHMAN: We all went through it. I've been there myself and now I'm a youth worker. I chair a youth centre. I've been there myself. I was raised in a place where I was – probably me and my brothers were the only black-headed kids in the school. It is hard to fit in. We find it very difficult for us to fit in and the politicians and the media aren't helping the problem. They keep putting the microscope on us and setting up task forces such as the Middle Eastern task force and we're still feeling out of place. And as long as we're going to feel out of place and the majority of the community is not going to open up their arms and embrace us, then we're still going to be looking for identity and that's exactly what we're looking for a place to fit in.
JENNY BROCKIE: But, Fadi, can you see how people are not going to embrace people they perceive to be committing crimes? They're not going to open their arms and say to people who are committing crimes and beating people up then, you know…
FADI ABDUL-RAHMAN: What you're trying to tell me is that, you know, you're allowing to be judged – to be judged before you know me, how is that right?
JENNY BROCKIE: No, no, no, but what I'm trying to get to I guess is where does the issue of personal responsibility kick in here as well as all the disadvantage and all the rest of it? I mean, you've made a choice not to be involved in this sort of stuff, OK? You've made a choice, you've decided not to do that now. Where does personal responsibility kick in here, because it has to, at some point.
FADI ABDUL-RAHMAN: Obviously, and that's the whole point of why we brought Napoleon is it might be able to trigger the personal responsibility that a person – yet we're still coming back to our youngsters and saying, “You are responsible for what you do and your actions as well,” rather than only blaming society at large. But what I'm trying to say is when you have a young person who's already got problems growing up, who's already got a problem with his identity, who's already feeling out of place, feeling marginalised, alienated and all that, plus he's a teenager and a youth as well at the same time and unemployed, he's got poor education levels, right, and at the same time low self-esteem, all that combined together where does this kid go? We are very quick to set up task forces and we're willing to pump a large amount of money for them but when you come back to my community, we only have two youth centres that are self-funded. I mean where is the balance?
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, let's hear the story now of one young gang member who ended up in jail. Here's Sashka Koloff.
REPORTER: Sashka Koloff
ALI: Because I never had a proper family like parents, cousins who, you know, wanted to be seen anywhere around me, they were – they were my family, you know. Like to me it was the most important thing because I knew I had no family so they were, they were the most important thing to me. You know, I had no-one else.
When Ali was 2 years' old, his mother walked out on the family. Shortly after that, his father died of cancer and he went to live with an uncle. When his uncle was jailed for drug importation, Ali started hanging out on the streets. There, he met members of an established neighbourhood gang and wanted to join in.
ALI: At first, I kept getting knocked back, like they refused to let me hang out with them, most of the older guys, they – that's where I wanted to be. I didn't want to be with the younger crowd. I wanted to be with the older crowd who were selling drugs and, you know, they always had money. They didn't even have a licence yet and they already had their cars. So I had to like show them that I was worthy enough, you know, learning the trade.
REPORTER: How old were you?
ALI: I was 13.
REPORTER: And what did you have to do to show them that you were worthy?
ALI: When the older boys started to see, you know, like I was young and I was running, you know, they thought, you know, “He's not too bad,” you know, “let's see what else he can do.” They asked me if I wanted to run for them and they'd pay me – at the time it was $50 a day.
REPORTER: Run drugs?
ALI: Yeah, like, you know, keep the phone with me or sit in front of a block of units in the street and customers would come and they'd see me and they'd give me the drugs and I'd do the deals and then give them the money at the end of the day and they'd fix me up out of it and they'd pay me and, to me, $50 a day, I thought I was a millionaire, you know. I never even had $5 a week unless I went out and got it.
When Ali was accepted by the older boys in the gang, his life changed. His fellow gang members became his only role models.
ALI: I was really happy and I was determined to make them proud, you know, whatever it took, because they meant something to me, you know. And many – after a while the boys would tell me, like, “Stop driving around in those cars” or “Don't hang out with that guy, that guy's a junky.” “He's bad. Don't hang around with him no more.” When they started talking to me like this, they were my brother, my father, they were everybody to me, you know, I would do anything for them because, you know, like my uncle, he never said don't do anything.
REPORTER: And were there any rules?
ALI: Just be loyal, don't dob no-one in, if your mate steals a car and you get blamed for it and you get arrested for it, take the fall. Like you would take a bullet for anybody in your group.
From small-scale drug dealing, Ali's criminal activity escalated. He established an organised ram-raiding operation and a drug importation ring. Along with large sums of money, he was now earning respect on the streets. But when he suspected that a new member of his gang had given him up to the police, he felt he had to do something about it.
ALI: At first, I kept quiet about it and then I spoke to the boys and, “What do youse reckon?” They said, “Look, we'll take him out to this area and we'll give him a hiding and leave him out there.” Said, “Alright.”
To me, I started – like, I slept on it till the next day and I felt if I do that, how bad would I look? Anybody else that gives you up – I mean, people kill people that dob, you know. Like, I can't just do that, you know. I started thinking of my image. How weak would I look? I just couldn't hold it in. Like we were standing in front of each other, I just couldn't take it. I couldn't hold it in. I bought a machete with me and I just blank – I was told that I just lost it on him and just struck him with all my might. Like, with a lot of force. He was dying.
REPORTER: Do you believe you killed him?
ALI: Yeah, it's not something I'm proud of, but if I could change things I would, you know.
Ali was jailed for manslaughter. When he went inside, he thought his friends would support him. But that's not what happened.
ALI: I went to jail believing all this, you know, that we'd always stick together no matter what. Like in jail, a lot of people thought because they've got nothing better to do they'd brag about jobs they've done, stuff they've done, and I used to brag, “Me and my boys done this, me and my boys done that.” And I started to look at myself and think, “Where is my boys.”
REPORTER: Do you miss that life when it was at its height?
ALI: No way. I regret every second of every day. That's the honest truth.
JENNY BROCKIE: Hmm. Well, do the rest of you know boys like that? Nader, do you know boys like that?
NADER HAMDEN: We all do, I think.
JENNY BROCKIE: You all do.
NADER HAMDEN: I think we all do.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what do you think when you listen to that?
NADER HAMDEN: I'm glad that he's found a way. I'm glad he's found his way. I'm sure everyone can find their way. I do it through my boxing, I've got a successful boxing career and I try to use that as a role model to the younger youth, you know what I mean. There is a way, whatever – it might not be boxing, it might be sport, rugby league, any other sport. But I think sport is a good way to get out there and get something happening.
JENNY BROCKIE: I'm trying to understand how it gets to that point, I'm trying to understand how it gets to that point.
ROMES: Understand this, I don't know why that is up there, those guns and shit. Because to be honest, man, we regret all that stuff. That's gone, man. That's stuff from the past. For sure we here to talk about it, man, but like, man, back then, yeah, we recorded our reputation that we wanted to represent, but right now we've got a reputation but it's all for the Lord, hey man, that's what we for.
JENNY BROCKIE: I'm not suggesting that's what you're doing now.
ROMES: Up there to see that, it's not good.
JENNY BROCKIE: How do you feel when you see it up there?
ROMES: It feels – it cuts us up, man. Regret it.
JENNY BROCKIE: You regret it?
ROMES: Yeah, we haven't picked up a bandana, not one red bandana since then. Don't know how many years that was, man.
JENNY BROCKIE: Ken McKay, what does that tell you about listening to that?
KEN McKAY: They're probably looking for that gun, in reality.
JENNY BROCKIE: What did you say?
KEN McKAY: They're probably looking for that gun.
NADER HAMDEN: Lebanese kids feel that every day we're walking down the streets we're getting pulled up for looking a certain look because of the Middle Eastern task force saying it happens every day. We're holding nothing, just going to school, going to the shop.
KEN McKAY: Yes, but a lot of people, by the same token, my staff, and, as I said, we've only been active since 1 May, have locked up a hell of a lot of people where they have found arms, have found firearms.
NADER HAMDEN: The young kids, hard-working kid, hard working kid puts all of his money into his car, takes it for a drive, gets pulled over because he looks a certain look and destroys his car.
KEN McKAY: They don't get an infringement or charged because of a look.
FADI ABDUL-RAHMAN: That's not on, Ken. We've felt – I mean even myself, I've felt the force of the police, even myself. I've experienced it in a way they deal with us because of the way we look. It is not on…
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, do you have any sympathy for the police as well? If they're trying to get these guns away from people to stop them from using them?
MICHAEL KENNEDY: You seem to constantly ignore the role, Jenny, that politicians are playing in this and the way they're shaping the police and they're shaping our society. It's not Ken's fault that he's just doing his job.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, OK. I'd like to take up the point that Michael raised about politicians. Malcolm, you're the only – you're the only political representative here tonight. Now, do you think politicians are conducting this debate in a responsible way?
MALCOLM KERR: I think some politicians are and maybe some aren't but at the end of the day, it's up to the community.
JENNY BROCKIE: Let him finish, let him finish. He's got a right to defend himself.
MALCOLM KERR: I've got a right. Politicians are responsible for the rule of law in this State. That means that the police have to act on reasonable grounds. If they don't act on reasonable grounds there are a whole number of authorities there, including the Police Integrity Commission, the internal affairs to deal with them.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, let's get back to my question. ..the leader of your –
MAN: the State branch of your party said only a few days ago that the first day if he won government in the next election, the first thing he would do would be is to send out the police and arrest every person whose number plate was found in the area of the Cronulla area when – after the retaliation attacks. How do you say the rule of law is important and need respecting –
JENNY BROCKIE: Your leader. OK.
MAN 2: Round us up and lock us up and throw the key away. We're not sheep, we're human beings.
JENNY BROCKIE: Let me actually say exactly what the Opposition Leader said in NSW. And what the Opposition Leader said in NSW was that the morning he was elected, when he's elected, as he hopes he will be, as Premier of NSW, he will ring the Police Commissioner and get the Police Commissioner to charge those people with anything. That was the quote “with anything”. Do you think that's responsible? Do you think that's responsible?
MALCOLM KERR: Let me say this –
JENNY BROCKIE: Can I get the answer, please?
MALCOLM KERR: The police have no power to charge anybody with anything unless they have reasonable grounds and that is not affected by who's in government or who's not in government.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think it's appropriate for a political leader to suggest people should just be charged with anything? No, let him answer.
MALCOLM KERR: The only way people can be charged in NSW is to have reasonable grounds for charging them and no change of the government will change that.
JENNY BROCKIE: Well, why then, why then is the leader of the Liberal Party suggesting people be charged with anything?
MALCOLM KERR: Anything in the sense of offences and once again I come back to the fact that before you could charge anybody with any offence, you'd have to have reasonable grounds. You're brought before a court, not brought before politicians.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, Ken, how did you feel about a political leader suggesting that your blokes and women go out and charge people with anything?
KEN McKAY: Well, we can't be told to charge people with anything, that's where we do have this separation.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, but how did you feel about the – Look, can we just pursue this a little bit. You're all complaining about how you don't think the political debate's being conducted and I'm actually trying to have a bit of a political debate here. What I'm interested – what I'm interested in is how the police feel when politicians say things like that. I mean where does it leave you?
KEN McKAY: Well, it leaves us in a position where we sort of disregard commentary of such because the issue of charging or taking action against any individual is, at the end of the day, the policeman taking that action is the person responsible and will be held accountable. So no-one, anyone – the Prime Minister cannot even tell even my youngest constable “I want that person charged with something,” that just cannot happen.
JENNY BROCKIE: Rick, you wanted to say something.
RICK SCUPHAM: We've spoken a lot about the gangs and the people in the gangs but I think what we haven't spoken about is the rest of the community. Now, the gang activity impacts on the community and the community has an expectation, and it's a reasonable expectation, for police to have a robust approach to those types of offences that are being committed by the gangs. And we don't apologise for doing that. Now I don't know – I don't think – I don't think –
JENNY BROCKIE: Just let him finish. Let him finish.
RICK SCUPHAM: I don't think we've got all the answers as police agencies, law enforcement agencies across the country. But maybe we need to work together with other groups to achieve that. I don't have a problem with that but don't crucify the police for reacting to crimes that are being committed.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, Rob White, what do you think about this. If you were to draw a picture of the way you see this situation nationwide, given the research that you've done, and, for that matter, in relation to history, what sort of picture would you draw? I mean what is the situation at the moment? Do we have any more of a problem with gangs than we've ever had?
DR ROB WHITE: The fact is that we have no baseline data whereby we can measure whether it's an increasing problem or not a big problem. In fact, if we really want to go to an historical example, there was a lot more homicide in 1901 than there is today. So do we say that things are getting better or worse? So it's a question of how you measure the nature of the problem. In general, I'd say that one of the things that we have to talk about very seriously is the role of the media in exacerbating the problem. The second thing that we have to talk about is the way in which everything that we've discussed today is completely racialised so that we're not talking about young people in Australia in general, we're actually talking about the way in which particular ethnic minority groups are being racialised and vilified constantly in the media and they are constantly seen as the problem when in fact most young people, most young men, are acting out in varying ways and going through very similar kinds of social processes.
WOMAN: It's not about racism, that's where the debate goes wrong. It's about youth and something to do. It's about crime prevention, it's about identity. As a multicultural person, I'm multicultural but I'm born here.
FADI ABDUL-RAHMAN: That's exactly what we're trying to say, but setting up a task force.. But setting up a task force, setting up a task force called Middle Eastern Task Force what does that tell you? That's racism at its peak.
WOMAN: And the media blows it up…
JENNY BROCKIE: We do have to wrap it up, we're out of time. We are going to have to wrap it up. I'd like to get a couple of final comments from some of the key people here. Napoleon, particularly from you. You've listened to everything here tonight. You've come from an American culture where killing is alarmingly common in gangs, what do you think about what you've heard and what do you think about you've seen since you've been here?
NAPOLEON: To be honest, the gangs out here is nowhere near America. I don't even think they're gangs. I think people are over-reacting. I think it's a way to over-react, man. I think having a task force just to target Middle Eastern people is like the most racist thing that I ever heard in my life. That's the most racist thing I ever heard in my life. For example, how would they feel if a bunch of gangs all just wake up and say “Let's all go attack white people”, would you call that racism?
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, Ken, can I get a final comment from you.
KEN McKAY: All I can say is the people of NSW demand that crimes are investigated. If the police see fit to group those crimes, we have a South-East Asian organised crime squad, we have a gang squad, we have, you know, a child pornography team, we have – we also – we class things in here to get levels of expertise that are required to deal with these issues. Now the mere fact that whilst you might not like it, the reality is there's sufficient crime.
NAPOLEON: But are you fighting crime in a hole.
JENNY BROCKIE: Can we let him finish. Can we let him finish?
NAPOLEON: Yeah, sorry about that, go ahead.
KEN McKAY: There is sufficient crime to warrant and there is public demand that says we need to address this issue.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, Michael, what would you do, just quickly? We are going to have to wrap up. What would you do?
MICHAEL KENNEDY: There are cultural and political factors that shape all of this but economic factors always win the day. The police can't be expected to solve it when there's a lack of jobs, there's poor educationWHERE we've got a health system that's poor, and yet – and I don't agree with a lot of things that Ken says but the same token, I'm not going to blame him for what's happened because he's just doing his job. We're entitled to expect more from our elected representatives and we're entitled to expect more transparency and we're entitled to expect more in terms of welfare provision re health, education and those things and without those things being given the same level of attention as law and order has been given, the problem will never, ever be solved.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, we are going to have to leave it there. I'd like to thank everybody very much for coming in tonight. Sorry, we've run out of time, it's been great, great to hear from all of you, thank you.