Social cohesion not tension

January 06, 2018

Our front page lead story today is not sensational — but it is necessary.

Our community leaders have spoken out to remind us gang violence in Melbourne does not mean the same thing is about to happen here.

It is a reminder to ourselves, to our neighbouring towns and to the wider state body politic not all communities or cultures are the same.

African communities in Melbourne have not had the embrace of church groups, schools, individuals, welfare and police programs to the same level as they have here.

While sensational media headlines and unhelpful political commentary have succeeded in demonising a whole community in Melbourne, we should be vigilant in not allowing the same thing to happen here.

So we state categorically — there is no record of African gang violence in Shepparton.

That said, we should not be so smug as to think there are no troubling youth issues in our community.

Spend a day in the Shepparton Magistrates’ Court and you will come away with a disturbing picture of disengaged youth involved in petty crime, drug and alcohol abuse, violence, traffic infringements and other anti-social behaviour.

However, the point is these issues are not unique to any particular ethnicity or culture.

Everyone here is as bad and as good as everyone else.

While the police may crack down on a particular ‘‘spate’’ of burglaries in one area, another ‘‘spate’’ will arise in a new area.

The social drivers behind this behaviour are known — long-term and often generational family problems leading to disengagement from education, alcohol and drug abuse and mental and physical health issues.

These problems are experienced by the African community as much as any other mainstream Australian community, but migrants arriving from places of extreme poverty and violence come with a host of added issues.

While the courts can and should address the symptoms of these ongoing issues — they cannot deal with the underlying causes.

Instead of adding fuel to the fire of racial tension, we would be grateful if federal politicians added more fuel to the engine of social cohesion and tolerance.

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