The collective Sudanese population within the State of Victoria totals to just about 6000, accounting for significantly less than 1 percent of the entire population. It is very important to note that selected facts and figures have been used as a strategy to justify the existence of a ‘youth gang’ issue within the Sudanese and African communities. As a result of this misrepresentation, responses suggested for tackling this issue are often either too rash, disproportionate or simply ineffective.
Between 2016 and 2017, the number of alleged youth offenders from Sudan was less than 3 percent of the total alleged offenders for the same crime. In fact, the majority of the alleged offenders were white Australian youth and youth of New Zealand origin. This begs the question whether or not the rise in criminal activity that so often exclusively broadcasted as Sudanese is, in fact, a Sudanese problem or in actuality a problem among Australian youth in general?
There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that shows the outright over-representation of crime linked with Sudanese youth. In fact, data from the Victoria’s Crime Statistics Agency indicates indicates that though the Sudanese and South Sudanese community accounts for 0.14 percent of the population, they only made up 1 percent of all alleged offenders in Victoria. This means that there is another 99 percent of offenders that is not Sudanese. Therefore, to propagate a ‘severely’ alarming issue of young Sudanese criminals is unreasonable at best, and this is without even mentioning the various contributing factors that would need to be individually analysed and included in the debate. One of these is the notable skew of age within this demographic, particularly when compared with the rest of the Australian population. The Sudanese community has an incredibly young population, with half of the population being under the age of 25 as opposed to a mere 35 percent for the general Australian population, further foregrounding that even the very basis for comparison is conspicuously biased.
Another factor that adds to the bias driven by the media is the cherry-picking of facts and figures used to propagate this agenda. By focusing on particular crimes where Sudanese youth are purportedly over-represented (which is still significantly less than their non-Sudanese counterparts), a distorted perception is created that Sudanese youth is responsible for the vast spectrum of crimes committed. The augmentation of figures when taken with a younger average age can create a convincing picture for a ‘crisis’ and inevitably initiate a disproportionate public response.
The media itself is principally responsible for creating this situation. Television reports and entertainment programs construct a portrait of crime, criminals, and victims that is not substantiated by the data. In the case of the alleged Sudanese youth criminals, the issue is significantly hyperbolised and the individuals concerned are wrongly seen as the literal and figurative strangers who are not ‘one of us’. This then further stigmatises a vulnerable community. In fact, according to Professor Nancy Heitzeg, decades of research show that heavy TV viewers tend to overestimate the crime rate, the likelihood of crime victimization, and the extent of stranger-related violence. Hence media outlets depending heavily on over-reporting high profile cases can sway general public perceptions. By misportraying the reality of Sudanese youth, the media are able to create the perception that crime among them is far worse and far more frequent. These patterns of reporting on ‘African youth’ in Australia are reflective of the context of institutional racism that allows for these racialising frames and encourages their widespread repetition. Media headlines create fear in the public triggering false and irrational concerns. It is these multimillion-dollar corporations that reap the benefits.
According to Walker, Spohn, and DeLone (2009), ‘Our perceptions of crimes are shaped to a large extent by the highly publicised crimes featured on the nightly news and sensationalised in newspapers.’ The fact that initial reporting is determined by journalists’ reliance on police accounts of incidents involving a racially defined ‘problem group’ underpins a narrative of worsening crime. The racialising premises established by law enforcement is then retained and perpetuated by politicians, lobby groups, and racist organisations.
So, is the issue racial?
To answer this question we could comparatively analyse some examples. In the United States, for instance, the targeted group is young African Americans. The racialisation of Black people in the United States is at the core of serious social problems, exemplified by names like Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice, victims of a culture of systemic racial profiling, discrimination, and criminalisation. It is far easier to answer the ‘whys’ of society by blaming failed integration and so-called ‘problem groups’. We all witness the emotionally charged socio-political context, and the hyper-partisan and racialised narratives that animate news stories. Although the majority of Sudanese youth would disagree with the notion of ‘parallel lives’, this discourse is forced upon them, thus both negatively affecting the Sudanese community and threatening social cohesion. Instead of asking Sudanese people to shoulder all the responsibility for integration, the media should be at the forefront of promoting interconnected cosmopolitan lives by refusing to narrow its focus to just African youth. They should foreground ways to promote inter-ethnic collaborations, in which people can find shared solutions.
These are questions we need to ask ourselves before we quickly point fingers. To the critics of immigration, minority youth have been increasingly linked to crime, criminal gangs, anti-social behaviour, and riots. Sudanese criminal gangs do not exist. Criminal gangs, which happen to include Sudanese youth, do. We, as a multicultural society, need to find an effective way to solve youth crime and not ‘Sudanese criminality’.