Mean streets of Melbourne

Feb 23, 2008, The Age (slideshow):

DEEP within Melbourne's new all-night party zone — a dangerous city precinct one senior policeman concedes has become "alcohol-fuelled anarchy" — is Alluva Bar. It boasts a "great atmosphere" in the "heart of Melbourne" and says its Saturday night, C'est Noir, is "an innovative urban experience".

On the Australia Day long weekend last month, the night's promised ambience was ruined when Alluva was the starting point of a street brawl calling on the resources of 60 police and, depending on whether you believe the official or unofficial version, involving between 30 and 100 warring Sudanese and Pacific Islander patrons.

The brawl was sparked by a fight between two women at 3.20am that spilled outside onto Bourke Street, near the corner of Queen Street. Police used capsicum spray eight times. Bottles, chairs and tables were thrown and belts were used as weapons. Six people were charged.

It was, says the same concerned senior policeman, who spoke to The Age on condition of anonymity, "completely out of hand … calling it a riot would not be overstating things".

This new CBD party precinct — a small area overrun with bars and clubs based around Queen Street between Bourke and Collins streets — was, he says, "bloody feral". Police nearly lost control that night, he says. The air was thick with capsicum spray. Yet, says the policeman, it was "just another night in the CBD these days".

Last weekend Alluva blew up again. A fight between two men inside the bar over a woman — one was glassed in the side of the head — escalated quickly. The police response, extraordinary but prudent in the circumstances, was to use riot-control techniques to round up then disperse the mob.

It was 3.25am on Sunday morning. Peak-time for the CBD party people. About 50 police patrolling the precinct swooped on Alluva equipped with long batons and capsicum spray. There were five divisional vans in the street and a MICA ambulance.

Police ejected most patrons from the bar. The man with the bleeding head stumbled across Bourke Street's footpath. A bouncer with a cut forehead emerged. A man with blood splattered on his clothes tried to prevent The Age's photographer from taking pictures on the street. There was an air of danger and anxiety.

The mob was herded onto Bourke Street. Police then gathered behind them in formation, extended their long batons and started marching, shouting "Move! Move!" in unison, escorting them away towards Lonsdale Street, away from the hot spot and away from trouble ...

Police say a significant number of the CBD attacks are around Queen Street. They have also noted a trend towards ultra-violent, relentless and unprovoked incidents ...

The demographic mix of venues around Queen Street also seems to foster a sense of tribalism and territorialism. Basemint nightclub, for example, is for Pacific Islanders; Alluva attracts Africans; Element markets itself towards Asians. CQ Bar largely attracts white Australian patrons, yet due to its massive size they're from all backgrounds, all rubbing shoulders — sometimes uncomfortably — with each other ...

Police are more of a target. Acting Senior Sergeant Stephen Cooper says he has been assaulted twice recently. Once he was spat at by someone with blood in their mouth. Another time he was kicked "in certain areas where it hurts. It doesn't take a lot of provocation with these people to start a fight," he says.

Intensive-care paramedic Lindsay Bent says Friday or Saturday night in the CBD now involves an average of 15 assaults. They are so common, he says, that ambulance officers "roll their eyes" when another call comes through.

"It's happening more and more in the streets," he says, and it is getting more violent.

He says paramedics reported to him that they increasingly needed to chemically induce comas in patients on the scene — in the gutters and laneways and city roadsides — because head injuries were so serious, the trauma so severe, that the victims were unable to breathe.

City residents, including those living in the plush apartments around Queen Street, tell grim tales of bashings, stabbings and screaming in the night.

Glenn Hunter, 52, lives on the corner of Exhibition and Lonsdale streets. Two weeks ago he was woken and looked down from his apartment. "This bloke walked up to another bloke sitting down and delivered about 10 rapid punches to the head without any provocation."

Fiona McLeod works in the city as the state's energy and water ombudsman; she lives above Queen Street. Her neighbours have seen the fire brigade hosing blood off the street at dawn.

On a recent Monday night, she says, 60 people were "screaming and smashing bottles" outside a laneway bar called Murmur. "The fights are so regular you forget the specifics," she says. "This is a terrible image for Melbourne." ...

State Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said yesterday that the Premier "must now acknowledge that there is a frightening wave of violence across Victoria, not just in the CBD or along Chapel Street, and put more police on the streets to stop violent crime spiralling out of control".

There are two issues here. One is to do with crime, and some kind of cultural shift leading to more of it, and one is to do with licensing. So what happens next? What is the solution? ...

She says the problem involved a "different generation" who started their social life after midnight and often didn't wrap it up until 7am or 8am. The main problem is the new and unresearched type of violence being dished out, she says.

"I'm reluctant to use the word 'gang' but they are opportunistic gang-type assaults, mobs of guys who tend to keep hitting and kicking even when their target is down.

"We don't know why this happens. Is it more violence on TV or in video games? Is it a lack of respect? If you are a victim or you have seen or heard about this happening in your world, maybe it becomes the norm. Maybe this type of behaviour is pre-programmed now." ...
Finally, something other than alcohol gets a mention:

- kicking even when their target is down
- relentless and unprovoked incidents

- it doesn't take a lot of provocation
- a sense of tribalism and territorialism
from all backgrounds, all rubbing shoulders — sometimes uncomfortably

sounds like a lot of people walking around angry and uncomfortable, why might that be? Why aren't they celebrating the diversity? Surely something as simple as rubbing shoulders wouldn't spark violence? How can that be when diversity is strength?

Must be the white folks' fault. We must have done something wrong. Yep, not enough Barney the Dinosaur songs ...

Aristotle: "For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it".

Diversity is not strength and the sooner we reject the idea the better. We stretched our tolerance to the max with European and Asian immigrants. And now with Islanders, Africans, Middle Easterners, Muslims, etc - that tolerance has snapped.

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