Home' InDaily : April 23rd 2010 Contents April 23 - 29, 2010
The Independent Weekly news
Racial discrimination and
vilification of the state s
Aboriginal community has
increased because of sensational-
ised reporting around the alleged
"Gang of 49", senior Aboriginal
More than three years after
the term was coined to describe
49 Aboriginal and non-Aborig-
inal offenders identified under
Operation Mandrake -- a special
police taskforce to target known
youth offenders -- the tag has
become a self-feeding phenomenon
in populist media.
Controversy sells, and the
disproportionate coverage of
Aboriginal youth crime has
sparked competition for media
attention between offenders,
provoking a regular fresh wave of
Aboriginal Legal Rights
Movement CEO Neil Gillespie
said sensationalist media reports
reflected and encouraged an
embedded racism among many
South Australians which will take
years to heal.
"There is a strong bias in the
news against black Australians,"
"The facts are distorted by
the media for their own gain to
sell papers. It adds to Aboriginal
people s social disadvantage and
marginalisation, which then acts
like a cancer and further encour-
ages youth to be part of gangs that
are hitting the front page of the
Tony Minniecon is a counsellor
who works with youths on the
Operation Mandrake list and said
all the gang talk served only to
"hype them up".
"They idolise American
culture because they haven t been
educated about their own," he
Senior lecturer at the SA
University s Unaipon College
for indigenous education and
research Dr Peter Gale said the
coverage had added to the stere-
otype linking Aborigines with
criminal behaviour, and would
have enduring consequences.
"The emphasis (in the media) is
on entertainment rather than the
provision of information," he said.
"It is difficult for indigenous
young people to succeed in educa-
tion as is, but compounded with
the perception of being involved in
criminal activity makes that even
"They will be more marginalised
when looking for employment. It
will take a lot of effort for indig-
enous and non-indigenous people
to address the impact of that level
of reporting over a couple of
But the media s influence is only
half the story.
A 2007 report into Operation
Mandrake offenders, conducted
by Commissioner for Social
Inclusion Monsignor David Cappo,
showed the risk of involvement in
crime is increased by factors such
as neglect and abuse, parental
and peer involvement in crime,
substance abuse and poverty.
In fact, Mr Minniecon believes
many crime reports should say "a
man from a low-socio-economic
community", rather than "an
Aboriginal man", as poverty is
more relevant to offending than
ALRM s Mr Gillespie, whose
organisation has worked with
offenders from the "Gang of 49" list,
said crime prevention should be the
"Crime prevention and
intervention should be the focus
of any government, yet we have a
government that has this rack em,
pack em and stack em mentality,"
"The former Attorney-General,
Michael Atkinson, described the
kids as pure evil, which I found
extraordinary and totally irrespon-
"We owe it to young kids. We don t
just throw a 14 or 15-year-old out
the door or lock them up for life just
because they ve been disadvantaged
from birth and because they have
been misguided and influenced.
"They should pay for their
criminality and be returned
to society as good, responsible
citizens, with a focus on education
and employment when they come
out of detention."
Mr Minnecon said there also
needed to be an alternative supervi-
sion system for young offenders,
because training centres at Magill
and Cavan were "universities for
"They go in knowing a little, but
they come out knowing more about
how to break into cars and so on."
Weak family situations are
also to blame for recidivism, he
said, with young offenders often
following their fathers, uncles and
cousins through the justice system.
Many efforts at rehabilitation
are eventually broken down once
offenders return home.
"They go back into the same
family and their dad s in jail or
their mum s in jail and they need to
provide food but they re too scared
to apply for jobs because they have
a criminal record, so they do what
they know best -- they steal," he
Dr Gale said a lack of positive
role models and a failure to create
suitable education for Aboriginal
children added to the problems.
"We are really addressing 40 and
50 years of educational neglect
in Australia. We re still playing
catch-up in a lot of areas," he said.
Despite the Cappo investigation s
extensive recommendations, all
accepted by the Government, Mr
Minnecon said programs to address
juvenile offending were still grossly
While he has plenty of his own
suggestions for the police and
government, Mr Minniecon also
has a suggestion for you.
"Don t judge. If you see them
(Aboriginal teenagers), don t shy
away. When the boys see that, that
just makes them angry even more,"
"It s everybody s problem ...
Everybody has to be desperate
enough to say, We have had enough
of this, we want to see change ."
Mythbusters go gangbuster
Adelaide's so-called Gang of 49 is a media invention, writes Danielle Forsyth, and the urban myth is
stirring up years of hate and racism.
The "Gang of 49" does not exist --
at least, not in the literal sense.
The term, which was circulated
by the media and latched onto
by government officials and
police alike, masks a group of
loosely connected youth involved
in criminal activity of varying
Police say the number of offend-
ers under Operation Mandrake's
watchful eye, from where the
name was coined, is not static at
49, but fluctuates fortnightly.
ABC TV program The Hungry
Beast recently challenged the
Aboriginal organised crime ring
myth, speaking to police officers,
alleged members, Aboriginal
elders and journalists who agreed
the term had been misleading.
Members of the Aboriginal
community were also quick to
emphasise that not all "49-ers"
were Aboriginal, despite wide
"There is no formal gang
structure to the Gang of 49.
There's no structure or hierarchy,
so we would say the Gang of
49 doesn't exist," Detective
Sergeant Jon Halliday, who heads
up Operation Mandrake, told The
But a uniting term has brought
increased solidarity among
Advertiser journalist Colin
James, who covered many of the
early Gang of 49 stories, has
admitted as much, telling the
program: "We in the media coined
the phrase Gang of 49. Have we
created a new gang? Yeah, we
The Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement s Neil Gillespie: Sensationalist media embed racism.
Photo: Kate Elmes.
SA Uni s Dr Peter Gale: Populist
media s emphasis is on enter-
tainment, not information.
Mum spent years teaching you manners
It s time to say thank you
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