In defense of the “Apex gang”

Issac Gatkuoth.

The government, police and media are pursuing a racist campaign of vilification and persecution against kids from Sudanese migrant backgrounds.

The Herald Sun is today boasting that a Sudanese born “suspected member of the Apex gang” will be “forced to return to Africa next year”. The racists are crowing.

Who exactly are we deporting?

Issac Gatkuoth came to Australia as a nine-year old child refugee. He “endured a hellish, parentless upbringing in Sudan”1. He hasn’t seen his mother since he was five years old, his two brothers were killed when his village was “wiped out”, and he spent time as an unaccompanied child in a Kenyan refugee camp.

“Until recently he believed his father was living somewhere in Australia, but was devastated when he learned his dad died when he was just two”.2

Unsurprisingly, Issac suffers from PTSD, has recurring nightmares, and developed an ‘ice’ addiction. Issac “was on ice and had not slept for two weeks” when he committed a violent carjacking.

Issac was sentenced, imprisoned, and next year will complete the prison term that is meant to ‘repay his debt to society’. And then he will be deported to a country which he fled when he was five, where the people he knew are long dead, and which is stricken by ongoing civil war.

Issac denies being a member of the amorphous and ill-defined ‘Apex gang’, but because of the colour of his skin, and the racist beat-up surrounding anyone tarred with these two words, the right-wing media, the shock-jocks and Liberal MP Jason Wood are jubilant because this Australian youth faces deportation.

Issac is as Australian as I am3. He went to an Australian school, grew up in an Australian community, was marginalized by good old Australian racism and neglect, and took popular Australian drugs to blot out the pain.

Issac is as much one of ‘our’ kids as anyone. He needs support, not racism, vilification and deportation.

Aside: Compare and contrast the coverage, ABC 7.30, “Soldiers returning from war turn to drugs and crime – but are we letting them down?“.

What is this ‘Apex gang’ bullshit anyway?

When is a gang not a gang? The police, media and politicians report on Apex gang as if it were a structured criminal organisation engaged in systematic car-jackings, burglaries, and armed robberies. The truth is a little less impressive.

When the ‘Apex gang’ first burst across media front pages in March it was little more than an extended friendship group.

The Age reported earlier this year, the supposed gang “has no clubhouse, no colours and no real structure”. An ABC interview with a ‘gang member’ offered further details:

“I wouldn’t say it’s a really big thing, you know. The media always speculates and tries to make things sound big, bigger than they are. … (It’s) just a group of youths. … Everyone’s got to have friends, you know.”

A bunch of kids growing up in a Melbourne suburb with a “lack of school, no jobs, lack of employment” hang out with their friends and get into fights with other groups of kids. Sounds familiar:

Sharpies, or sharps, are the darlings of Australian gang fashion. They started out in the 1960s when groups of working-class teenagers in Melbourne, and to a lesser extent, Sydney, came together over cars, tattoos, fights, and “dressing sharp.”

In March, some kids were involved in a punch-on at Federation Square during the Moomba festival. Melbourne’s largest street gang, Victoria Police, responded with copious amounts of pepper spray.

If the kids involved hadn’t been black, and if their little spat hadn’t pissed all over a City of Melbourne tourism draw card, the fight might have gone unremarked.

Brawls involving a couple of dozen people are common enough in any suburb with the right combination of unemployment, alcohol and machismo:

VICTORIA Police say they are not investigating an all-in-brawl at a suburban Aussie rules football match despite reports a pregnant woman was assaulted.

When the police and media reported that a “gang war” had taken place in the city, the Apex gang exploded. As the ABC’s ‘Apex gang member’ pointed out back in March, “Some people just want a reputation”.

Notoriety is a hell of a currency, and when the media, police and political establishment started condemning the ‘Apex gang’, every disaffected kid in the outer suburbs had something infamous to scrawl on the wall.

It is little wonder that the apparent composition of the ‘gang’ has changed and the crimes associated with it are expanding. Hundreds of people from all manner of backgrounds are now using the words ‘Apex gang’ in Melbourne’s south eastern suburbs.

There is no ‘Apex gang’, but there is a hell of a brand, and who wants to let the truth get in the way of a good story? Both the police and media outlets profit by stoking racist hysteria around the ‘Apex gang’. The gang narrative sells papers, drives website clicks, and justifies police budgets.

Anyone interested in how the police and media can invent a ‘gang’ out of whole cloth should read up on Adelaide “Gang of 49“.

In 2007 SA Police announced they were “monitoring a group of 49 primarily Aboriginal offenders held responsible for hundreds of crimes”. The media dubbed it the “Gang of 49” and dozens of articles followed.

The Advertiser and local talk back radio reported on the crimes, members and supposed rituals of this terrifying gang menace. One expert compared it’s lack of structure to the ‘cells’ of a terrorist movement! Before long there were indigenous kids running around calling themselves the “Gang of 49”, where no such gang had existed before.

Victoria goes to the polls in two years, and both major political parties will once again engage in the traditional ‘law and order’ bidding war for the support of the Police Association and the Herald Sun.

You can bet that the Police Associaton will demand more officers and greater powers, and both major parties will announce ‘new measures’ to ‘combat gang crime’.

Aside: Whenever you see the words “police sources” in a Victorian publication, the journalist actually means “Police Association gossip”.

Police racism

Victoria Police cannot be taken seriously when they talk about the ‘Apex gang’, ‘gang crime’, or anything supposedly connected to the Sudanese community.

In 2014 three police were sacked and thirteen disciplined over the production of racist material at a Police station in Sunshine.

Racial profiling is common place:

Victorian Police LEAP data analysed by eminent statistician, Professor Ian Gordon from the Univeristy of Melbourne in Haile-Michael & Ors v Konstantinidis & Ors revealed that between 2006-2009, Africans in the Flemington and North Melbourne area were 2.5 times more likely to be stopped by police than other groups despite having a lower crime rate.

The practice of racial profiling extends beyond police “rank and file”. “Overt operational orders by Victoria Police have been known to target African youth” despite 2006 legislation that “makes it unlawful for a person to be treated differently from others on the basis of their race”.

Victoria has introduced a pilot “stop and search receipt” program, but it’s designed to avoid capturing any information about ‘race’ lest racism be detected. The Victoria Police Association resists even this most basic accountability measure.

Victoria Police, and in particular the Victoria Police Association, maintain very close relationships with the newspapers who might otherwise report on police misdeeds. The law-and-order campaigns of the Herald Sun (in particular) mirror the stated position of the Victoria Police Association, and crime reporting rarely deviates from the narrative pushed by Victoria Police’s media unit.

The confluence of interest between Melbourne’s largest tabloid newspaper and the Victoria Police Association deserves closer examination than I am able to provide in this post.

Concluding

Issac Gatkuoth is being sacrificed to the myth of the ‘Apex gang’, and racist narratives around “Sudanese crime”.

The vilification of the Sudanese community continues unchecked in the pages of tabloid newspapers, on talk back radio, at MPs’ press conferences, and in the actions of the Victoria Police.

The reality is that Melbourne’s outer suburbs register unemployment rates approaching 30%, alienated teenagers hang out in ‘gangs’, and kids who’ve experienced war and deprivation need love and support.

We must push back against the vilification of the Sudanese community, public rhetoric about the ‘Apex gang’, and the victimization of troubled kids like Issac Gatkuoth.

  1. 3AW.
  2. The Hun, 16 May 16, “Suspected Apex thug Issac Gatkuoth jailed over carjacking”. And ask yourself, why are black kids always labelled “thugs”?!
  3. Recognising the problems with the term ‘Australian’: ‘Australian’ ‘national’ identity is the a construct of the colonial state which continues to deny the dispossession and ongoing injustice faced by Aboriginal people.

23 Comments

  1. I have nothing useful to say. I am a very boring person.

    Reply
  2. Thanks so much for writing this Kieran. Never get the truth in the bullshit media

    Reply
  3. Well written article Kieran, completely agree. The Herald Sun has sold a lot of copy of the Apex boogie man.

    Reply
  4. Real good piece mate. Gave me some good leads to things I didn’t know about.

    Reply
  5. The Police Association are scum. End of story

    Reply
  6. Important article. Thanks for writing this kieran.

    Reply
  7. This was the only piece i bothered reading on this issue. Thank you.

    Reply
  8. Excellent article Kieran you’ve really done a good job on why deporting this young man is disgusting.

    Reply
  9. Quite a naive opinion to have. I think the piece raises some very valid points, but it’s always easy to cry ‘rascism’ and gloss over the facts of the matter. It’s all well and good to highlight ‘Apex’ as just a group of mates, however, their clear ties to violent offences; of which I’ve had friends of mine first hand experience, is completely unacceptable. I think you need to consider the evidence provided in judicial hearings related the ‘Apex’ gang members – of which has been trialed and tested in front a judge/jury – which serves as a reflection of the values and laws we have in this country. Saying their simply a ‘bunch of youths’ is a too simplistic view of it – the name ‘Apex’ wasn’t made up out of nowhere nor can it be denied that there aren’t organised movements of people under the ‘Apex’ name.

    Everyone who lives in this country (being born here or resettling) should understand and know the laws that bind their citizenship. Unfortunately, this lad crossed that line and must pay the consequences for it. Whilst I’d never wish for a person to ever have to deal with the challenging childhood this boys seems to have experienced, there is no excuse for violence or illegal behaviour. The choice to engage in Illegal drug use and violence at the end of the day is the responsibility of each individual, no matter the race or background. It’s unfortunate that this young man who was provided a new start on life in Australia funded by us the taxpayers, didn’t capitalise on this and instead chose to abuse it.

    Reply
    • Your comment hinges on the phrase “there is no excuse”. But we excuse all manner of undesirable behaviour because of extenuating circumstances. It’s too simple to say that crimes are punishable according to strict formulae – this is why judges have discretion in sentencing. I think it’s fair enough to punish Isaac for his crimes, just like any other Australian, but deport him? No.

      Reply
    • the name ‘Apex’ wasn’t made up out of nowhere nor can it be denied that there aren’t organised movements of people under the ‘Apex’ name.

      Yes, there are more organised groups of people calling themselves “Apex” now. Several at least, not all of them connected to eachother. Like I said in the article, when you throw that kind of notoriety at a word, all sorts of people will grab onto it.

      My characterisation of the ‘Apex gang’ at the time of the so-called Moomba riot is supported by both the comments made by Victoria police to the media and the ‘gang members’ themselves (at least in so far as the handful who spoke publicly at the time).

      As for Issac, there is clearly different treatment. Those of us who are born here are arrested, jailed, serve our time and released.

      If I’d done the things Issac did, I’d get a second chance, and probably a third.

      And rather than simply jail, I suspect a white kid would end up with a treatment order.

      Reply
    • I don’t think he chose drugs. That’s what happens when you experience trauma. I can imagine everyone in your family being slaughtered, being alone in a refugee camp would bring with it a LOT of trauma. Its not really a choice to try and blot out that pain, its inevitable. Your right he should be jailed but he shouldn’t be deported.

      Reply
    • jimmy chan are you human??

      Reply
  10. Once again, another refreshing article that offers a true reflection of what is occurring. Kind of invaluable. Keep up the good work Kieran 🙂

    Reply
  11. He held a shotgun to someone’s head.
    You would have done wrote this if it was your wife or your mother.
    It’s all a choice in life to take drugs or not he took the wrong path.
    But he will not change he will be back doing the same thing when he gets out.
    I really hope he doesn’t pull the trigger next time.

    Reply
  12. Very difficult situation . Some of these kids do a lot of stupid but not sure if this warrant a deportation! Vic police only gets involve when the situation is out of hands and when it gets worst! I run a nightclub and we have been women problems with some Sudanese guys .Been really bad lately and they almost killed someone . We have tried to involve Vic police since from the start but they have left things to escalate and trying to blame the whole Africa ! So I think these problems are difficult and needs a holistic approach .

    Reply
  13. very interesting read, really challenges the social norm opinion of what the media feeds everyone. Its interesting how so many people have such strong opinions of sending him back but never consider the reasons he is this situation such as lack of support, no family and ptsd.

    I still don’t understand how people think they are more superior because they were born here compared to arriving as a child – everyone is human some people are just more lucky than others not to be born in a war torn country as experience the trauma of fleeing your home without your family.

    Reply
  14. Good article. I agree. Primarily the fault lies with this (and past)useless governments bringing in severely traumatised people without an ongoing plan of therapy and integration. The problem is that the ongoing level of violence displayed and often its randomness in nature is frightening. Really, it’s no different to the outcry about the Vietnamese being tarnished for the heroin importation. It passes, people integrate. The difference then was the general public, by large wasn’t affected by heroin, but due to the public feeling afraid through the level of violent crimes (and wonderful fear-mongering journalism) and it’s often apparent randomness, something’s gotta give. We haven’t seen communities having to set up vigilante security before. That isn’t just prejudice, it’s a reaction to ongoing violence. It’s easy to label them, cos they’re black and look different and we don’t like things that look different do we? Unless they bring in nice food or clothing. Then they’re ‘ok’.The largest proportion of overseas-born prisoners in Victoria was from Vietnam (305 prisoners or 20% of overseas-born prisoners) followed by New Zealand (157 prisoners or 10% of overseas-born prisoners) Persons born in Sudan had the highest imprisonment rate (701.6 prisoners per 100,000 adult population born in Sudan), followed by persons born in Samoa (432.4 prisoners per 100,000 adult population born in Samoa). The number of Sudanese-born and Samoan-born prisoners was 131 and 100 respectively.(ABS 2014). This is the main concern and this study is 2 years old. The concern is that this ethnic group will quickly surpass others. Yes, I am aware that being a different colour increases likelihood of imprisonment. I think people will always feel safer if they can point to a mob and say “they’re the bad ones”. Lowest common denominator, unfortunately often wins.

    Reply
  15. That’s pretty shit. We might as well kill him. Sending him back to Africa’s pretty much a death sentence. Someone has to be the scapegoat for the Murdoch press and it isn’t going to be liberalism. Soz Issac.

    Reply
  16. Is there anything that can be done to try and stop the deportation?

    Reply

Your email address will not be published.