Ballarat must feel almost blissfully aloof to the political storm that is raging over the so called “gangs crisis” which seems to have transfixed the Melbourne media. Ballarat certainly has its own crime problems (and mean streets) but has not yet resorted to simple racial brands to sum up the motive or solutions to such recurrent problems.
Few people are denying there is a problem in Melbourne but to turn it into a politically motivated squall shows a disingenuous will to seek solutions if not a spurious understanding of what the situation is like at the street level.
It also shows no one is aloof to the temptation of finding easy solutions to complex problems or throw-away labelling that has seen some of the cheapest politically point scoring even from the least credible of our mendacious leaders.
Nor does it take too much memory or investigation to realise wave after wave of ethnic groups in Australia’s history have nearly all suffered that combination of exclusion, concentration, antagonism and resentment which give birth to social problems.
The braver response is to ask how to nullify the negatives of inevitable friction. In this too Australia has shown some success. The problem is always in being even braver to face up to the causes.
Community law leader Anthony Kelly discounts the ethnicity and says young African-Australians turn to crime for the same reasons as other youths including unemployment, interrupted education, socio-economic disadvantage, difficulty at home and a lack of 'belonging'.
"If kids don't feel supported within the community, they're far more likely to feel welcomed in criminal networks and find solace or belonging in negative patterns of behaviour." he told media this week
The police, dealing with the sharp end of the violence dont want the issue hijacked. Deputy Commissioner Crisp called for calm:
"There is not a crisis in this state in relation to crime, or the behaviour we're seeing of a relatively small number of people of African background," he told media.
"We've seen, sure, a spike in antisocial behaviour over summer, over the last few weeks, but this is not a crisis."
So ignoring point scoring talk-back radio chatter of the politicians, most people will be wondering why more thought and energy isn’t being spent on preventative measures.
After all in most Australian case of it has worked before. Tension and friction yes but it is a long time, despite wave after wave of immigrants to this country, since we had to deal with a ‘race war”, regardless of how tempting the headline might be.
Then sometimes it is examples at the more modest local level which cut to the heart of the problem and show us what has gone wrong.
Ballarat’s masters student Issac Moses has, as a child soldier in Sudan, probably seen much worse when it comes to violence but he notes the right support and opportunities turn lives around. Angry boredom and energetic unrest can become passionate improvement and involvement.
The modest and generous community members who contributed to his path have shown the way again that leaders could learn a lot from