Vigilance against violence

Down here in Victoria (well I’m not there right now but will return in late Jan) things have turned nasty as the Indian Government keeps pointing out when we kill another Indian.

I’m not as concerned as some other people as to whether it’s racially based violence.  It’s violence.  We need to act.  Most readers will have had experiences similar to the one that Tim Watts has just broadcast on Facebook. It infuriates me when a whole tram full of people sit quietly by while some nutter intimidates us all – mixing it with bold racism makes it even worse. Anyway, since I’ve been part of the cowed masses, what to do?  Well Tim’s proposing something after he gets his story off his chest.

On the Train to Camberwell Yesterday
Today at 2:54pm

My fiancée and I took a train to Camberwell together yesterday. We were on our way to finalise the plans for our Wedding ceremony with our celebrant. I suppose it wasnt a particularly significant or meaningful meeting just another one of the dozens of administrative steps you need to take in order to get married. However, what happened on the way to this meeting has been gnawing at me ever since. In fact Ive been getting more and more angry about it.

What Happened?

About half way from the CBD to Camberwell, a man entered our carriage and proceeded to ask each of
the dozen or so people in the carriage for money. He was reasonably dishevelled, but judging by the quality of his clothes it didnt look particularly like he was living rough who knows I know you cant really judge these things by appearances. He was however fairly articulate and engaged in good natured banter with anyone who helped him out.

After working his way through each of the passengers he sat himself down around the middle of the carriage in a set of seats backing on to a group of three young Asians (I assume that they were students but who knows). A short time after sitting down, the man proceeded to quite loudly and aggressively berate the Asians who were sitting behind him for speaking in another language: Do you know youre in Australia? Either speak English or go back where you came from. Its so rude to speak Chinese or whatever youre speaking. Its annoying.

Being half his size and having no idea what to do the group of Asians sat in silence. As did the rest of the carriage; except for another tattooed and unshaven man towards the back of the carriage who loudly said Hes right. People look at me like Im crazy when I say that but hes right.

The first man then became convinced that the Asians had taken his photo on their mobile phone and started physically threatening them You had better not have taken my photo. If you have you had better delete it. Im not joking. If you know whats good for you youd better delete it. You wont be living if you dont delete that photo. Again the carriage sat uncomfortably silent except for one of the girls in the group of Asians who had started to cry.

About a minute or so later, the train pulled up at Camberwell and the man got off the train and left the station. Two things happened after the man had left. A woman from the end of the carriage moved towards the group of Asians and gave the crying girl a hug. And another person leaving the train said to themselves as much as anyone else I hate how fucking racist this country is sometimes
Oh, and then I went with my (Asian-Australian) bride to meet with our wedding celebrant about how many readings we wanted in our ceremony.

So What?

The thing is Ive been in this situation before. Youll all know that Im not backwards in coming forwards. Its never been a problem for me to get involved in sticky situations on public transport. Ive struck up conversation with a leering drunk on late night trains to stop them harassing a women. Ive calmly told people to pull their neck in when theyre making other people uncomfortable.

But it was different this time.

I wanted to say:

Hey Dickhead – you know whats rude? Begging for money from someone and then insulting them one minute later. You know whats annoying? Having to listen to the stupidity and ignorance of the inner workings of your addled mind on a Saturday afternoon. You know what would happen if those three kids went back where they came from? Victorias biggest single export industry (education) would collapse leaving the State Government incapable of providing the support services you are so clearly relying on. Those students are your meal ticket fuckwit and youd better show them some respect. You dont speak for me you piece of shit and you dont speak for our community.

But I didnt.

And not because it was one of those situations where you only think of the witty thing to say in retrospect no, these thoughts were pulsing through my brain while I was silently fuming 10 metres away.

So why didnt I say anything? For the same reason as the rest of the carriage fear. Not fear of an awkward social situation but fear for our physical safety in a situation involving racial aggression.

This is what has been making me increasingly mad over the past 24 hours the fact that the constant reporting of never ending incidents of racial violence in Melbourne combined with the inadequacy of the police response has created a climate in which people are fearful of speaking out. All but one person in the carriage strongly disapproved of what happened – but no one could speak up until the guy left. And this was on a train to CAMBERWELL in BROAD DAYLIGHT.

Whats Going On?

This is what has been making me increasingly mad over the past 24 hours the constant reporting of a seemingly never ending stream of incidents of racial violence in Melbourne combined with the inadequacy of the police response has created a climate in which people are fearful of speaking out. All but one person in the carriage strongly disapproved of what happened – but no one could speak up until the guy left. And this was on a train to CAMBERWELL in BROAD DAYLIGHT.

Not only that, but the fact that the most extreme act of racial prejudice violence! is currently being met with public statements of equivocation from our law enforcement officials, is creating a situation in which the bigoted feel that they are able to spew the sewerage of their minds in public. By not striking forcefully and publicly against the extremes of racial prejudice we are sending the message that lower level expressions of racism like the incident I witnessed yesterday will also be tolerated in our community.

What Should Be Happening?

I gave the Victorian Police then benefit of the doubt on this issue for too long. I assumed that as a professional organisation that they would deal with this issue. I trusted them. But no more. They have failed to deal with this issue. They have failed our community. No, they are not racists themselves as crudely portrayed by the Indian media. But their complacency on this issue has let down the Victorian community.

So let me spell it out for them:

  1. I dont want to hear any more equivocation about whether crimes are racially motivated or simply crimes of opportunity;
  2. I want public recognition of the fact that racial minorities dont feel safe in our community at present;
  3. I want a public statement of the fact that racially motivated violence IS WORSE than other forms of violence in our community. I want them to recognise that unlike other violence, racially motivated violence has an impact beyond the incident itself. I want recognition that this kind of violence strikes fear into entire communities. I want recognition that this kind of violence gives people a reason to be fearful because of something that they cannot change their racial background. They cant avoid it by changing their behaviour it goes with them everywhere they go;
  4. I want a public statement that putting an end to this fear is the Victorian Polices number one priority. The existence of this fear threatens the states economic prosperity by doing untold damage to Victorias largest export industry. More importantly, the existence of this fear in our community runs counter to every value of our democratic society.; and
  5. I want to see a plan for how youre going to fix this that:
  6. – Sends a clear message on behalf of our community that racial violence is not tolerated by our community and that if you transgress this strongly community view, we will come after you and smite you with the full force of the state; and
    -Shows the community the consequences of racial violence. If a newspaper reports racial violence, I want to see similar publicity when those responsible are caught by the police and when they face the criminal justice system. The community needs to see action and results. These bottom crawlers need to know that the state is coming after them, that they will be caught and that they will face justice.
    The time for public education has passed. Another Harmony Walk isnt going to fix the situation now. The State needs to send a message of aggressive intolerance towards the prejudiced bottom crawlers in our society. This is a law and order issue.

We need to send a message to these people as Escalus, the Prince of Verona sent in Romeo and Juliet:

Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace,
Profaners of this neighbour-stained steel,–
Will they not hear? What, ho! you men, you beasts,
That quench the fire of your pernicious rage
With purple fountains issuing from your veins,
On pain of torture, from those bloody hands
Throw your mistemper’d weapons to the ground,
And hear the sentence of your moved prince.

If ever you disturb our streets again,
Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.

What I Am Going To Do About This And How You Can Help

In the meantime, Im going to stop whinging and do something about it myself. Sadly, the days when you could put together a posse and deliver a bit of vigilante justice to criminal pariahs are gone.

However, as a citizen, I can do something for increasing the profile and the accountability of this issue.

What I am going to do is map publicly reported incidents of racial violence in Melbourne on the following public map:

Map of Violent Racial Incidents in Melbourne

Im then, to the best of my ability and using public sources of information, Im going to track the police and judicial response to these crimes ie whether an offender is charged and if so the outcome of this charge. I also want to go back 12 months and map and track previous offences. There have already been community led examples of this in the United Kingdom so I cant claim originality here.

Unfortunately I have my own job and personal responsibilities so I dont have the time to do the Polices job for them. This is where you come in – if you care about this issue very small amounts of your time would make this task so much easier.

You can help by:
-Publicising this note and this Facebook Group amongst your friends.
-Please email me public reporting of incidents of racial violence in Melbourne, or even better post them as links in this Facebook Group.

In particular, legally trained friends, especially those of you working in the criminal justice system if you can assist with tracking down the results of investigations of racial violence this would be particularly useful. As anyone will tell you, Im not a REAL lawyer.

I dont know if doing any of this will actually achieve anything. Well see. But hopefully it will make me feel better about myself and what Ive done in response to this. Maybe if you help, it will make you feel better about yourself too

  1. [][]
This entry was posted in Blegs, Economics and public policy, Life, Web and Government 2.0. Bookmark the permalink.
Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
14 years ago


Thanks for posting my rant/bleg.

I have to say that three days ago I was completely in the same boat as you – violence is violence is violence. I was against hate crime legislation because I thought that was already adequately covered by existing criminal laws and anything beyond that was getting close to criminalising thought.

However,upon reflection in light of this incident, I think I’ve changed my mind. I think violence with a racial element IS in fact different to other violence because it has a differential impact. Violence with a racial element has an additional, targeted intimidation impact on minority communities that general violence doesn’t have. I hadn’t really thought about this before, but sitting on that train the news reports of racially violent incidents came immediately to mind in a way that I think general reports of violence wouldn’t have in that situation. In this way, the broader intimidation impact of violence is greater when it’s targeted towards an identifiable sub-group.

As I say though, this is a new perspective for me though so I may not have thought it through clearly yet.

What do you think?


14 years ago

I’m not convinced that any of the generalisations he wants us to draw are in fact sound. I have twice been the victim of violent crime (two assaults) in my life and I know that it can totally change the way you feel as a citizen, more so when the perpetrators were never convicted. But it is not clear to me that drawing the conclusions he wants us to draw will help the situation at all, particularly because his claims are entirely anecdotal.

14 years ago

Hi Tysen,

You’re completely right of course – this is a purely anecdotal account. I don’t know how you’d even go about quantifying whether there had been an increase in low level racial incidents since the issue of attacks on Indians began getting increased attention. If you need to see numbers to be convinced, I don’t have them for you. However, I don’t think it’s a complete logical leap to think that a series of high profile violent incidents with a racial element and without a strong public response might create an environment in which certain elements may think low level racial incidents may be more acceptable.

That being this debate isn’t completely without data:

“In the 12 months to June 2006, 1082 attacks on Indians in Victoria were reported to police – an assault rate of 1700 in every 100,000. In other words, Indians living in Victoria are 2


[…] Gruen adds another dimension in Vigilance against violence. Down here in Victoria (well Im not there right now but will return in late Jan) things have […]

14 years ago

Next time someone complains about ethnic ghettos or gangs or wonders about some of the reasons they form, perhaps you should give them this story.

14 years ago

I think it’s just a good example of why ethnic groups end up in gangs and ghettos (often rich ones, like Chatswood). Basically, if you are an ethnic minority that doesn’t look white, you put up with constant intimidation and bother from other groups (with this being a good example of it), so it starts making sense to either (a) hang out in places that it won’t happen; or (b) hang out with enough friends such that you are the hunter and not the hunted. I’ve personally put up with enough of that sort of low level intimidation throughout my life that I’d consider moving to a suburb where that sort of thing isn’t common (indeed I already live in a fairly harmless suburb, although if it’s happening in Camberwell, perhaps one really needs to live in a suburb without too many of the majority ethnic group — either that or Hawaii :) ).
On this note, one of my friends was lucky enough to be involved in an incident where some poor Lebanese kid (probably about 15) was being hassled by two big white guys for being Lebanese. Luckily someone did step in. However, all I could think of is that this Lebanese kid is going to go home, suffer some paranoia, and next time he goes out it will probably be with some of his big mates that won’t take such bother. God knows how he would have turned out if they did beat him up (as threatened). I might also note that I don’t think this problem is restricted to any particular groups (although some groups certainly cop it more than others). One of my friends, for example, is a white guy that looks very camp, and if I go out with him at night through some places, then the probability there will be torrents of abuse hurdle at him is approximately 100%. It makes the type of abuse that you get as an ethnic minority group appear mild. Similarly, when I used to live in Caulfield South (another fairly harmless suburb), I noted that the Jewish community there needed security guards on some of their Synagogues despite being essentially harmless also, so this sort of thing is obviously frequent enough that many groups are already taking evasive action against it.

14 years ago

The dandenong line is a hot spot for this kind of abuse as well.

I remember coming home one day with a train full of white collar workers that represented every corner of the world. Pretty much everyone was wearing a suit and like me had more than likely left home at 7am to get to work and were hoping that the train ran on time so we could be home by 7pm. About half way home someone comes on and as in the posted story asks people for some money, sits down and promptly begins abusing and these 2 Indian guys, everyone sits silently. The train pulls up and the guy gets off now screaming abuse. On this station waiting around is a group of about 5, 14-15 year old, my mother would describe them as trouble makers. However this group after hearing the “go back to where you came from” rant for all of about 2 seconds were having none of it and promptly hit back with their own tirade of abuse which put our deathly silence to shame. After the doors shut the first words spoken by someone in the carriage were along the lines of “well that was embarrassing”.

And it was, but that’s the kind of power that racial abuse has over people. The majority suddenly become invisible because everyone fears that they may be targeted next and everyone hope that it will go away.

Love the idea of having carriage numbers on the inside of trains. The map is a great idea as well. What would be great if there was a phone app for reporting incidences, perhaps that makers of the current timetable apps could include a section for reporting issues

Paul Frijters
14 years ago

Over time, absolute homicide rates clearly trend downwards in the last 20 years ( even though population levels have increased. At current population levels and homicide rates, about 2 Indians are expected to be killed in homicides per year in this country. As to overall crime, its very hard to truly pick significant trends in Victoria(, with rape going down and assaults up (but not by that much). Where should I look to find evidence of an increase in racially motivated violence?

Richard Tsukamasa Green

I think there would be some virtue in extending the mapping to other cities (I don’t think local knowledge is needed for the maps).
Not just because what’s good in one city is good in another, but because in relation to specifically Indian violence of the fact that there has been so much focus on Melbourne in particular. For instance, apart from concerns in Harris Park, there’s been little reports from Sydney.

If we were to accept that this is a Melbourne problem, and not just one where Melbourne has been the focus of attention, we’d need to accept one or several of the following hypotheses.

a) Melbournians are especially racist or especially violently racist.

b) There is a greater proportion of Indian students and thus targets.

c) Melbourne is particularly violent or poorly policed.

d) There is a greater propertion of Indians in Melbourne working in dangerous occupations/living in dangerous places.

None of these seem to ring true. Despite our inane tendency to promote the concept, there is very little cultural differences between the culture of one capital city and another. That and I don’t think the thugs at Cronulla or in my own observations would be too specific with their racism. The dynamics that lead to housing and occupation choices would be the same in most cities.

Extending the map over other cities would allow us to get a better idea if these hypotheses are true (and allow a narrow targeted approach) or false (which intuition leads me towards) which would force a more general approach.

Afterall, one of the most frustrating things about combating prejudice is the the tendency with have to attribute it to other group as to absolve our own group and allow it to become an element of prejudice in itself. American racism was a Southern disease to Northerners. Anti-indigenous sentiment is a country/NT disease to urbanites. Any number of prejudices become a bogan disease.

I think it would be catastrophic if we mistakenly made this problem a Melbourne disease.

14 years ago


Bringing the conversation back to data is always a valuable exercise. The core of my proposition above is that media coverage of violence in which racial minorities are the victim has increased substantially without an adequate response from the State (by which I mean the Police). My further proposition, which I freely concede is extremely hard to test quantitatively, is that as a result of the current state of the public debate (ie frequent reports of violent incidents with minority victims without a clear public response that racially motivated violence is especially invidious and will not be tolerated by the State) an environment has emerged in which people feel that expressing racial prejudice at a lower level will also be tolerated by the general community.

I appreciate that there’s a lot of unpacking that could be done here! But boiling it down, my biggest issue is that there’s a community belief that racist violence is occurring without an unequivocal response from the State.

The Victorian police frequently reject a racial cause for violence involving minority victims without providing any meaningful data to explain away the correlation. They simply assert that these people were in the wrong place at the wrong time and attribute the cause to robbery etc. In fact, it’s the Victorian Police who are arguing from anecdote in this debate.

It seems to me that there are two ways you could respond to this:

I’d be happy if the Victorian Police were able to make the case publicly that racially motivated violence isn’t a problem. It would be great if someone could publicly show that that the correlation between indian and being a victim of violent assaults is not the result of a causal relationship. Show me some data that shows that taxi drivers, night shift store clerks or people in other at risk occupations are equally likely to be victims of assault as indians (in fact, before you do that you’d better show me that Indians actually are over-represented in potentially dangerous professions). But no one bothers to do this. The debate is had at the level of anecdote. The police assert that the cause of violence isn’t racial despite the overwhelming correlation and yet do not cite any data of their own. Given the strong incentives the police have to sweep an issue that is potentially highly incendiary under the carpet – yes, I am suspicious of this.

However, I suspect that expecting this level of rebuttal of correlation is too much to ask. Therefore, the alternative response to this situation, and the response that I’ve advocated most strongly is that the Police should respond to the correlation and send a clear message that racial violence is unacceptable, that they’re targeting it because of it’s specially invidious nature, and showing the community how they’re going to stamp it out.

Finally, I’m interested in why you say assaults have not gone up much and why this is not an issue. Sure, the long term macro violent crime rate is falling and that’s important to keep in mind, but surely it’s not an argument not to respond to real and identifiable increases in particular areas. Surely a 7.4% increase in assaults off a base of 30,000 can’t be explained away as a statistical anomaly? As you say, this increase alone doesn’t go to causation but given the media profile I’m not satisfied to just dismiss race as a cause.

I should also note that I have no background in this area so am fully open to being set straight.


14 years ago

“a) Melbournians are especially racist or especially violently racist. c) Melbourne is particularly violent or poorly policed.”

Melbourne is especially violent by OECD standards (Australia being the most violent country in the OECD, or at least the country where violent actions are reported the most), but it’s not violent compared to other major Australian cities. The last big OECD survey came out in 2001, and whilst violence has dropped a lot since then, it has in most other countries too (presumably excluding the last year or so where figures arn’t available). There’s no data I know of about racist violence, but I would find it surprising if general violence was not reasonably correlated with more specific types given a lot is driven by the same factors (e.g., alcohol).

“b) There is a greater proportion of Indian students and thus targets.”

I believe this is true (although I’m not sure whether it’s overall numbers that matter or proportion).

“d) There is a greater propertion of Indians in Melbourne working in dangerous occupations/living in dangerous places.”

I would be surprised if that wasn’t true (excluding a comparison with Sydney), I think the problem they have is that they’re not especially rich, and since rents are so high, they are basically forced to live in the more dangerous suburbs. I imagine this isn’t such a problem for them in the cheaper cities.

As for Sydney vs. Melbourne, I think they are pretty similar also. However, after having lived in both cities for quite a few years, I think Sydney is worse for some groups. The media is almost hysterical about any crime done by the Lebanese there, yet their rate of crime is only marginally above the Australian norm (as are Kiwis, but you don’t here about them). Alternatively, if I compare Sydney and Melbourne to other places I’ve lived a fair bit, then I think that it’s far worse in Marseille, where racism is taken to a whole new level versus Australia, and probably far better in Hong Kong.

14 years ago

Conrad – do you have a link to that OECD report you mention so I could have a read? I’d be shocked if Australia was the most violent country in the OECD.

Similarly, I have no doubt that European and Asian countries are more racist than Australia (anyone who disagrees with that is either ignorant of the OS experience or into pointless self-flagellation). That being said, ethically I would like to hold us to a higher standard than the rest of the world and practically, I think we’re more exposed suffering economic consequences of being perceived as racist than Euro or Asian countries (to wit see projections of declining Asian student numbers).

14 years ago


I can’t find the earlier report I was referring too easily.
However, I have found a newer one (released this year), which shows that Australia has gone down more since 2001 than many other countries (it isn’t the worst in almost all categories any more! woohoo!). Poor old New Zealand has not had such luck, and new comers to the survey, Ireland, look like they are the new winners. They also now have the feeling unsafe category, which is also interesting, because the correlation with actual safety is poor.

Try looking here

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
14 years ago

There is a problem with a lack of information about motives in crimes against overseas students. One report in The Australian last year said that 80% of those charged were aged under 18. This means that their cases are heard in the Children’s Court where there is typically less media reporting and defendants’ identities are suppressed. The one over-18 defendant whose case was well reported was a Somali refugee whose life was off-the-rails and whose crime was drug and alcohol fuelled – extremely complex problems that won’t be fixed by tut-tutting about racism.

However I have more sympathy for the police position than Tim does. While it may have backfired, not playing up any race angle was presumably intended to avoid creating more fear than is warranted. It was also practical – there is nothing you can do about your ethnic background, but plenty you can do to reduce personal risks in crime prone areas.

While I think the usual anti-racism statements by political leaders are worth making to comfort groups who feel afraid, it is very unlikely that they affect the substantive problem in a positive way. Even without the racist element, people who carry out violent attacks are already showing complete contempt for laws passed by politicians and for near universally held norms against violence, and disregard for the severe penalties they face if caught.

Indeed, for this group there is a chance that emphasising the racial element will fuel the attacks by giving them more media coverage, which could be part of what they enjoy – making themselves feared and notorious.

14 years ago

Cowards like the guy in the story rely on other cowards like your friend Tim to get away with the things they do.

It’s no wonder he was so angry with himself. Standing Idly by while a grown man threatens a group of teenagers on a public train is disgusting.

14 years ago

This is my first post on Club Troppo.
I love reading the debate on this blog, but I often feel that I can’t match the intellectual muscle that is flexed here. However I’d like to say a few things on this issue.

Firstly I’d like to thank Tim for sharing his story. Much like you Tim, i was infuriated by the words and actions of that man. I used to catch the Camberwell line and had I witnessed the encounter I would have liked to have asked that thug:
1) have you ever/would you ever like to visit another country?
2) If so, how would you react if a local abused you for speaking English?

With attitudes such as his, I highly doubt he even has a passport.
Whether I would have mustered the courage to challenge him would be another matter.

I was watching the news the other day and I heard the story about an Indian man that was set upon by 4 people and set on fire. I was disgusted. The news story then cut to footage of Victorian Police Commissioner Simon Overland stating that, “Indians are safer in this country than they are in their own country. If you have a look at the data, they are safer here than they are in India.” I have no inclination as to whether this is true, but I think he completely misses the point. If that statement was intended to allay the fears of the Indian community and prevent Indians from leaving/coming to Australia I can only say one thing. EPIC FAILURE.

Even if the likelihood of assault in India is higher in India than in Australia, there is a perception that the Indian community is being explicitly attacked over and above other parts of Australian society. If this is even remotely true, Indians have a right to be angry and afraid. If this perception is not addressed (especially through Police action) it may very well materialise in episodes such as Tim’s story where ‘closet’ racists are galvanised through a racists zeitgeist.

I completely agree with Tim in that Police need to act strongly on this matter, at least through the message that they send and the words that they chose at press conferences. Let’s take our heads out of the sand and change the zeitgeist.

Edward Mariyani-Squire
Edward Mariyani-Squire
14 years ago

A possible problem with ‘relying on the data’ is that there may be a fair amount of under-reporting, especially when it comes to non-physical racist actions such as verbal abuse and spitting.

Again, completely anecdotal, but about 90% of Indonesians that I have met over the past 13 years have a story of being (at least) verbally abused in public – usually completely out of the blue. None of those that I have asked have ever reported their experience to a government agency. They just put it down to standard Australian racism and move on.


[…] couple of weeks ago Tim Watts got a lot of coverage (here’s the Club Troppo version) for criticising the lack of response – from himself, and from others – to an incident […]

Brad Allen
Brad Allen
11 years ago

With the lack of security on our train system we need to help eachother when something is going wrong. Tim Watts is a gutless wonder.