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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Guns don't kill people ... angry, fearful people with guns kill people

Guns don't kill people ... angry, fearful people with guns kill people

When news breaks of a mass shooting event at a school, no-one asks which country. We all know that odds are it will be the United States. And so it was on 17 February 2018, when the world was horrified to learn of yet another massacre at a school in the United States. The school was Marjory Stoneham Douglas in Florida where a white nationalist, Nicholas Cruz used an AR-15 to murder 17 students.

Immediately after the massacre, President Donald Trump ruled out tightening gun control legislation, but instead said that people should report suspicious people to the authorities. Cruz had been reported to authorities on at least 18 occasions, including two reports that he could shoot up a school, and police did nothing about him. One of Trump's other bright ideas was to arm teachers. Then it was revealed that the armed school deputy had hidden rather than draw his weapon on the gunman, and that there were four sheriff's deputies who hid behind cars rather than engage with the gunman(1). Why not just train soldiers to be teachers? Oh wait, there's been numerous massacres and mass casualties on military bases on US soil, including Fort Hood in 2009, that killed 13 people and wounded 32(2).

Armed teachers? Great. When bullets start flying, people start running. The chances of a teacher shooting a child is going to escalate dramatically. When cops arrive and there are a dozen armed teachers running around, how the hell are the cops to know who is the active shooter that they need to stop?

Unlike many other school shootings, the students at Stoneham Douglas mobilised political rallies in Florida and Washington, demanding changes to gun legislation. The very powerful and morally bereft, National Rifle Association, pressured politicians from the President down to not change the laws. The NRA supposedly represents responsible gun owners, however, this is a rather dubious claim because what self-respecting, responsible gun owner would oppose any legislation that kept guns out of the hands of mass murderers? Nor do they wish to limit the damage that guns can do, such as banning bump stocks that convert some semi-automatics into full automatics, or limiting the magazine capacity of weapons, or even questioning why the hell anyone needs an assault-style rifle, such as the AR-15 which was used in this massacre ... and in the Sandy Hook school massacre that killed 26 people, including 20 children aged six and seven years old ... or the Las Vegas massacre on 1 October 2017, in which 59 people were killed and more than 850 wounded by a gunman using numerous guns, including AR-15s with 100-round magazines. AR-15s are designed for one thing: massacring humans. They are not designed for hunting animals, or for target shooting. They certainly are not designed for clay pigeon shooting. They are designed to shoot people and make sure those people do not survive. Shots from the AR-15 tear people's bodies apart; they do not leave neat little holes that might increase the likelihood of survival. Peter Rhee, a trauma surgeon with University of Arizona describes wounds from an AR-15 as 'looking like a grenade went off in there'.(3)

There are an estimated 265 million guns in the United States, which has a population of 323 million people, although only 30% of the population have guns. The average number of guns per gun owner is three, however, some only have one, while others have up to 140. Just 3% of America's gun owners hold 133 million guns, around half of America's personal arsenal.(4) Many of these weapons are pistols which pwners claim they need them for self-defence. Others will argue they use their rifles for hunting. Considering there aren't too many stags walking down Broadway it begs the question about how much hunting some of these gun owners do.

It may come as a surprise, but the chances for most people of encountering a violent gun-related crime is small for most areas of the United States. Gun violence is very much geographically concentrated, with more than half of America's homicides occurring in 127 cities which account for less than a quarter of the national population, but people in those areas are up to 400 times more likely to encounter gun violence(4). Even that is very much concentrated in small pockets of those cities. For instance, gun violence in Boston occurred in only 3% of its streets, while juvenile crime in Seattle occurred on only 5% of its streets(5). The chances of encountering situations where a person may feel the need to pull out a gun are small.

Self-defence? Then riddle me this: why are there almost seven times the number of firearm assaults in states with the most guns compared to those with the fewest? Gun-owners are twice as likely to be murdered as people without guns. Part of this issue is the mentality that owning a gun creates. Some gun-owners take greater risks, go to more dangerous places, thinking they are safe because they're 'packing heat'. The only thing being packed is them or their family members into body bags. So how many victims of assault used their guns for self-defence? Less than 1%. Instead, for every legal use of a firearm in the house, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides committed by someone in the home, and 11 attempted or completed suicides. Studies have shown that using a gun in self-defence is as effective as non-violent measures, such as calling for help. The NRA and gun-owners try to argue that if people want to be violent, they will be violent regardless of their access to guns. This is true, but as Scientific American reports, 'guns intensify violent encounters'. Remember the 'Stand Your Ground Laws' that legalised killing people in self-defence when they feel they are in danger, after George Zimmerman killed an unarmed black man, Trayvon Martin, because he felt scared? Since then, Florida's homicide rate has risen by around 25% and other states who have introduced similar legislation have experienced a sustained 8% increase in homicide rates. Mark Hoekstra of Texas A&M University pithily observed, 'we found that making it easier to kill people resulted in more dead people'.(5)

If guns made homes safer, then insurance premiums would go down rather than increase. One insurance broker's website states: 'The risks faced by your insurance company include wrongful death, bodily injury, property damage, and theft, among others. Since your gun adds considerable risk to your renters insurance, it also increases the rates significantly'(6).

One of the mantras chanted by gun-owners is that 'guns don't kill people, people kill people'. No shit, Einstein. That's why we're calling for gun control; background checks, training, cooling-off periods and raising minimum ages. Pro-gun people completely remove guns from the equation in crime. In their myopic view, it would make no difference whether the perpetrator had a gun or a rolling pin. Yet, what the hell are firearms designed for? To give foot massages?

In 1994, assault-style weapons such as the AR-15 were banned until 2004. Pro-gunners argue it isn't an assault weapon as this is a military term, however, the legislation defined 'assault weapons' including rifles and pistols that were semi-automatic with detachable magazines and had at least two military-style features, such as bayonet mounts, flash suppressors, folding and telescopic stocks, amongst others(7). Magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds were also banned. The legislators did not expect the ban to reduce gun crime per se, but to reduce the incidence of mass-shootings. So did it work? Damn straight it worked as shown in the below graph. In the ten years prior to the ban there were 19 incidents of mass shootings (defined as six or more deaths) with a total of 155 people killed. During the ban, mass shootings dropped to 12 with 89 deaths. In the ten years after the ban was lifted, there were 34 mass shootings with 302 deaths.(8) But hey, according to NRA logic, rolling pins will kill as many people as an AR-15.

So what is the NRA solution to the school shootings? While the NRA is demonising the gun control argument, they are yet to propose a solution other than, 'a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun'.

Further to this good guy/bad guy garbage, some pro-gunners bang on about 'bad people kill people'. However, this idea of there being good people and bad people is founded in simplistic, puerile ideas of absolutism that fails to acknowledge context ... the kind of thinking that far too many Christians embrace ... and funnily enough, a lot of American gun-owners are Christian who sincerely believe that guns are a gift from God ... clearly skipping the entire New Testament ... oh, that's right Jesus said, 'pick your AR-15 and follow me'. There are bad people out there, however, everyone is prone to good and bad actions. Show me one person who has never had a bad day ... I'd love to meet that person. 'Good' people have bad days and 'good' people lose their shit. Let me repeat that: People. Lose. Their. Shit. And armed people losing their shit is not a place anyone wants to be near. People who are armed and having a particularly bad day are more likely to react by drawing their firearm and raining hell on the situation. As Scientific American identified, 'People, all of us, lead complicated lives, misinterpret situations, get angry, make mistakes. And when the mistake involves pulling a trigger, the damage can't be undone'(5).

The NRA and pro-gun people justify their lack of legislative action by hiding behind the Second Amendment which they claim constitutionally protects their rights to 'bear arms'. This is one fraction of the Second Amendment and completely neglects the bit about 'well-regulated'. For your reading and researching convenience, the Second Amendment in its entirety reads as follows:

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Let's unpack this in light of modern America.
  • A well-regulated: passing laws, funnily enough, is the very essence of well-regulated
  • Militia: sorry, but Mr & Mrs Jones running around the streets of Boston armed with a couple of .32 calibre pistols while looking for a lobster and avocado panini with pan-roasted forest mushrooms, does not constitute a freaking militia.
  • being necessary to the security of a free state: Guess what? Now that America spends more per capita on its heavily armed Defence Force than any other nation, kind of negates any need for a militia to defend it. Oh, and if you're intending on over-throwing an oppressive regime based in Washington by facing down the world's biggest military after eating your lobster & avo panini with pan-roasted forest mushrooms ... yeah, good luck with that ... actually, thoughts and prayers are with you.
  • the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed: the people ... the militia ...  yeah, kind of only if necessary for the security of the nation, otherwise this does not apply.
Sadly, the NRA has reinvented the Second Amendment to deny any recognition of what a well-regulated militia is or whether it is even necessary. 

When the Second Amendment was introduced, America did not have a formal defence force and was totally reliant on the militia. Oh, did I mention that this was at a time when firearms were just a basic musket that was flat out firing three rounds a minute (compared to your average AR-15 which pumps out 45 rounds a minute ... and more if a bump stock is fitted). Do people really think that armed dumb-asses stuck in traffic in their Cadillacs with Make America Great Again bumper stickers, thinking about that evening's episode of America's Got Talent, constitute a militia?

By the by, 'militia' is a collective noun. A militia is a group. It is not individuals roaming around the streets unregulated and armed to the hilt. The militia of which the Second Amendment speaks was in reference to the legislated civic duty of the time, that required every white male aged between 16 and 60 to have a gun. That is the well-regulated militia, they were compulsorily required to own and provide their own weapons for the defence of the land; it wasn't a choice. A preliminary text of the Second Amendment provided a definition of what the Founding Fathers considered a militia: 'A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms'(9, p. 379). Most people would agree that with America's significant military might, a body of the people is no longer the best security of a free state, therefore it is no longer necessary.

John Paul Stevens, a former associate justice of the Supreme Court points out that the Second Amendment was designed for two things: one was to arm the people for military purposes and the second to restrict federal control over weapons but not that of the States to regulate firearms. Stevens suggests that the Second Amendment could be clarified through the addition of five words: 'A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed'(10)

This may surprise many, but the individual right to gun ownership was only recognised in 2008, 217 years after the Second Amendment was passed(11). These individuals are not a militia and will never be called on to defend the nation with their own weapons ... if they are required to defend the nation, they will be conscripted into the military and provided with weapons by the defence force.

The pro-gunners continually portray gun control advocates as wanting to ban all guns, yet this is far from the truth. Most gun control advocates want ... wait for it ... gun control. In other words, they are not solely blaming the guns for killing people, they are blaming people having unfettered access to guns for killing people. The pro-gun mob are in complete denial over the impact of guns in violent situations. They have gone ostrich, sticking their heads in the sand, yet there is a clear correlation between guns and the massacres that we see in America. The common denominator in these massacres is guns. Sure if guns were completely banned, someone set on massacring others will find another way, but most other ways require a bit more planning and skill than grabbing a semi-automatic and unleashing hell on innocent people. 

Gun control people have been asking for changes to the law so that it is more difficult for irresponsible people to get hold of guns. Why would responsible gun owners be opposed to this? Some of things gun control advocates are asking for include:
  • background checks
  • mandatory safety courses
  • mandatory licensing of gun owners
  • raise the minimum age to at least 21 before people can buy firearms
  • ban private sales of firearms
  • ban sales of firearms at gun shows
  • cooling off periods, so that someone can't just walk into a store and walk out 10 minutes later with a gun
  • ban high capacity magazines; restrict magazine capacity to 10 rounds
  • ban the bump stock that turns a semi-automatic weapon into a fully automatic one
  • people with domestic violence convictions banned from holding firearms
  • guns to be secured in safes at home
  • ban assault-style rifles (again)
While assault-style rifles are in the minority of weapons, they do facilitate mass killings.

Of course, none of these measures will completely stop the over-representation of violent crime in the United States, but they may well reduce it. The pro-gunners argue that legislation makes no difference, yet, as can be seen in the following chart, deaths by guns are lower in those states with the strictest gun control legislation(12).

Some of the infantile arguments against gun control made by the pro-gun mob include:
  • cars kill more people and we don't ban cars ... we also restrict access to cars, people have to be a minimum age, undertake training and licensing, pay for registration and insurance, and driving under the influence is banned. We also don't let people drive Formula One cars on suburban streets, so why allow people to own assault-style weapons that have no place other than in the military. One could say that cars are 'well-regulated'.
  • If we ban guns, they'll just buy them illegally ... sure ... so let's legalise all drugs because people are still using them, let's ditch homicide laws because people are still being murdered. We could save a heap of money on prisons by repealing all the laws that people break which put them there in the first place. Clearly laws don't work if there are still criminals, right?
  • Video games are too violent ... right, and every other country plays these same games but don't feel led to massacre children sitting in an algebra class!
The right-wing wants to ban everything they dislike, such as abortion, birth control, marriage equality, refugees, anti-bullying programs, immigration, Islam, halal, burqas, left-wing media, books (e.g. Slaughterhouse Five for not being consistent with biblical teaching), rock music, equal rights ... but when it comes to restricting access to guns it's a resounding NO from many right-wingers who have a distorted sense of entitlement, patriotism and biblical values.

One of the scapegoats that pro-gunners blame for mass shootings is the mentally ill. Which is ironic, considering that it is the Republicans who have been defunding mental health programs, but that is another story. For the most part, it is not the mentally ill who have been responsible for the mass shootings ... it is .. get this ... angry people. Psychologist, Laura L. Hayes wrote in 2014 on the tenuous links between mental illness and mass shootings, and emphasised that there was much stronger evidence to link poor anger management with violence and in particular, mass shootings. Hayes identifies that this violent anger is caused by a chronically suppressed rage.(13)

The modern United States is an angry nation. It is factionalised by an 'us and them' mentality that demonises people based on race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation and wealth. It demonises the poor and refuses anything that might represent a welfare state. 

The United States of today is one in which individualism is highly-valued over that of the community. This individualism is neurotically tied to the idea of freedom and that owning firearms is the greatest expression of freedom ... even if it comes at the price of thousands of dead school-children. The USA is riddled with a neurosis that is driven by greed and selfishness, manifesting as an extreme paranoia of the 'other' coming to take their things away. It is a neurosis that has been caused by the extreme form of capitalism that only America embraces. It is a capitalism that sees any form of sharing as being communism. Welfare payments to ensure people can eat? Communism! Universal health-care so that everyone, rich or poor, can receive medical treatment? Communism! Public education? Communism. Taxation? 'That's sharing wealth, you dirty Commo!' Raise the minimum wage so that the working poor aren't forced to work three or four jobs? 'Fuck you, Jack - price of my coffee ain't gonna go up to help someone else! That's communism, you pinko snowflake'! 

Yep, anger. Anger against those who might take away their precious 'freedom', which is really only their belongings purchased through their consumerist indulgence and an anger that comes from a perceived competition with the neighbours; 'keeping up with the Jones's' drives much of the ludicrous competition that causes stress and anger in many Americans.

America's extreme form of capitalism does not allow for empathy or compassion. And we wonder why this selfishness and fear exhibits itself through anger and paranoia that results in mass shootings of innocent people. It's the hate speech and exclusionism of populist politics that is empowering people to shoot up schools and crowds.

Gun control is only one small step in reducing deaths from guns. There are three profound issues that need to be addressed for long-term change in the United States:
  • anger
  • fear
  • hate
America needs anger management, this in itself will help resolve much of the violent crime. 

America needs to overcome its fear; it's fear of the other, fear of loss, fear of communism, fear of sharing. This is a nation that houses some very fearful people ... and they're armed to the teeth with firearms.

America needs to overcome its hate. It is a nation that is still largely segregated by race and religion. It is a nation that illustrates the huge disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Interestingly, most mass shootings are perpetrated by the haves, the privileged members of white America(14)... illustrating the power of fear that comes of greed and selfishness.

However, to truly overcome these horrendous mass murders, America needs empathy, sharing, caring, a spirit in which the good of the community is valued more than the individual, more than selfishness and greed.

Sylvester McNutt, a former high-flying type from corporate America who became a best-selling author of motivational books, may have inadvertently nailed the solution, when he wrote:

'Everyone is so focused on acting savage, busy, and heartless these days. Meanwhile, I'm searching for the humans that believe in compassion, love, and human connection'. 


1. New York Post, Ruth Brown, Four sheriff's deputies hid during Florida shooting, 23 February 2018, Accessed 3 March 2018.

2. Ranker, Mike Rothschild, Complete list of US military base shootings, Accessed 3 March 2018.

3. The New Yorker, John Cassidy, America's failure to protect its children from school shootings is a national disgrace, 15 February 2018, Accessed 3 March 2018.

4. The Guardian, Lois Beckett, The gun numbers: just 3% of Americans own a collective 133m firearms, 15 November 2017, Accessed 3 March 2018.

5. Scientific American, Melinda Wenner Moyer, More guns do not stop more crimes, evidence shows, 1 October 2017, Accessed 22 February 2018.

6. US Insurance Agents, Does owning a gun impact my renter's insurance quotes?, 10 February 2014, Accessed 3 March 2018.

7. United States Congress, H.R.3355 - Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Accessed 3 March 2018.

8. Washington Post, Christopher Ingraham, The real reason Congress banned assault weapons in 1994 - and why it worked, 22 February 2018, Accessed 3 March 2018.

9. Walker, D.J., 2016. Necessary to the security of free states: the Second Amendment as the auxiliary right of federalism. American Journal of Legal History, 56(4), pp.365–391.

10. The Washington Post, John Paul Stevens, The five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment, 11 April 2014, Accessed 3 March 2018.

11. Politico Magazine, Michael Waldman, How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment, 19 May 2014, Accessed 3 March 2018.

12., Gun Laws v Gun Deaths, Accessed 3 March 2018.

13. Slate, Laura L. Hayes, How to Stop Violence. Mentally ill people aren't killers. Angry people are. 9 April 2014. Accessed 3 March 2018. 

14. New York Times, Daniel Victor, Mass shooters are all different. Except for one thing: Most are men, 17 February 2018, Accessed 3 March 2018.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Australia Day - Invasion ruined your life? Get over it, you're ruining our party!

Australia Day - Invasion ruined your life? Get over it,  you're ruining our party!

As the debate around Australia Day continues, so does the entrenched racism of many non-indigenous Australians with claims that Australia wasn't invaded, but peacefully settled by the British. Some claim that it could have been worse had it been the Dutch or the Portuguese or the Spaniards who invaded. Except these type of statements white-wash the genocide, massacres, ethnic cleansing, human rights abuses, eugenics and inhumane treatment that the British unleashed on the indigenous population.

The British declared the land 'terra nullius', empty land, and then set about systematically claiming the land for themselves while forcibly displacing the indigenous population whom they felt were less than human, or at best, were inferior to white people.

Captain Arthur Philip, the first governor of New South Wales, is often portrayed as a philanthropist who befriended the Eora people. Philip was committed to harmonious relations with the native occupants of the land, however, this didn't last long. Phillip's gamekeeper, John Macintyre was a brutal man who killed dozens of indigenous people. When he got speared by a man named Pemulway, who took exception to Macintyre's brutality, Phillips gave the order to kill six indigenous people in retaliation(1).

Contrary to popular opinion amongst some, the 'settlement' or 'colonisation' of Australia was not peaceful. Throughout the 19th century, most white settlements considered themselves to be at war with the indigenous population. One settler remarked, 'But if ye take their country from them, and they refuse to acknowledge your title to it, ye are at war with them; and, having never allowed your right to call them British subjects, they are justified by the usages of war in taking your property wherever they find it, and in killing you whenever they have an opportunity'.(2). These wars, of which there were many, have come to be known as the Frontier Wars. If anything gives credence to the claim that this was an invasion, it is the number of wars and massacres that occurred during this time.

Historians have compiled on online map of massacres, with a massacre defined as the killing of more than six people. Between 1788 and 1872 there were approximately 184 massacres, killing an estimated 3,598 aborigines. The Tasmanian Black War annihilated almost the entire indigenous population of the island(3). These massacres do not include the ongoing clashes between settlers and the indigenous population where there were fewer than six people killed. Nor did the massacres end in 1872. As late at 1928, massacres were occurring. That year saw the Coniston Massacre in the Northern Territory, in which at least 60 indigenous men, women and children were murdered by police(4).

The 50th anniversary of white settlement, otherwise known as Foundation Day (the precursor to Australia Day), was held on 26 January 1838. It was marked by a government ordered massacre of around 40 Kamilaroi aborigines at Waterloo Creek. Over the coming weeks, up to 200 more aborigines were killed. Six months later, the Myall Creek massacre resulted in the murders of 300 aborigines, many of whom were decapitated and burned by the occupying forces.(3)

According to former Prime Minister John Howard, 'there was no genocide against Indigenous Australians'(5). Tell that to Tasmania where almost the entire indigenous population was wiped out. Tell it to the thousands of victims of massacres.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, perpetuating the white superiority that Australia was founded on, stated that white settlement was good for aborigines(6). Abbott has a long history of racist comments about indigenous people and demonstrating a complete lack of cultural awareness. In 2014, he perpetuated the concept of terra nullius when he stated that when the First Fleet landed, Sydney was nothing but bush. He went on state that from the First Fleet we now have 'one of the most spectacular cities on our globe'(7). No mention of the exploitation or contribution of indigenous people to Australia's history. Sadly, the colour TVs of modern society came at a high cost. Abbott has  ignored the fact that modern Australia was built on the blood, sweat and tears of the First Nations People, who were exploited, raped and murdered at the hands of white settlers.

White settlement amounted to ethnic cleansing of the land. Much of the indigenous population was forcibly removed and relocated to areas they often had no links with, without recognition of their tribal boundaries, nor of the intricate marriage structures they had in place with neighbouring tribes.

It wasn't like the government didn't know what it was doing. For the centenary celebrations to be held on 26 January 1888, then NSW Premier, Henry Parkes, was asked if aborigines would be included in the festivities. Parkes replied, 'And remind them that we have robbed them?'(8).

Some of the white overlords wanted to 'breed out the coloured population'. Over the years, white people began breeding with aborigines. Not all of this was consensual. The white settlers often raped Aboriginal women. It was noted by a number of influential people, such as AO Neville, Western Australia's Chief Protector of Aborigines (an Orwellian misnomer if ever there was one), that black people would eventually be bred out, which he articulated in his 1947 book, Australia's Coloured Minority: It's Place in the Community.(9). It was common belief that pure-blood aborigines were of inferior genetic stock and would eventually die out(10).

In what amounted to eugenics, for decades the white overlords controlled who aborigines married, stole their half-caste children and aimed to encourage breeding with white people to 'breed the colour out'. The government claimed that the children were removed because of abuse in their family situations. However, the white idea of abuse was often the perception that pure-blood aborigines were considered to be inferior to white people and incapable of raising mixed blood children. Additionally, the government did not want traditional Aboriginal customs to be taught to children. For that matter, they didn't want aborigines practising their culture at all. One of the aims of forced removal was to teach mixed-blood children the ways of western civilisation(11).

It was common for female aborigines (adults and children) to work as domestic servants in white households, usually only being paid with food and accommodation. Many of them were raped and bashed by their white masters. Aboriginal men were forced to work on their own lands that had been taken over by white setters. The men were also paid with food. From 1897, numerous pieces of legislation  gave the Queensland government power over the wages and savings of indigenous people. Other states had similar legislation. This meant that money earned by aborigines was held in trust, however, it was rarely, if ever, returned to the people who earned the money(12). This lasted until 1972, when government control over wages ceased. Even then, aborigines were still being paid less than non-indigenous people. Wage equality wasn't finalised until 1986. Since then, there have been numerous legal challenges to recover the money held in trust. In 2002, the Queensland Government created the Indigenous Wages and Savings Reparation Offer, which was capped at $55.6 million. This was only for living workers and was not designed to be paid out to families of deceased workers. In 2004, the New South Wales government apologised for stolen wages. There is a class action underway at the moment regarding stolen wages.(13)

Far too many Australians believe that these issues concluded 200 years ago and that indigenous people should just 'get over it'. However, more than two centuries of government policy and social prejudice have formalised institutions that still exploit and abuse indigenous people to this day. They are over-represented in the court systems, often being arrested for crimes white people will never be arrested for. They are over-represented in deaths in custody. They suffer with sub-standard health care and education. Having said that, what is wrong with commemorating the abuses of two centuries ago? Australia remembers historical events on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. Most countries remember significant wars and battles, so why shouldn't Australia commemorate the Frontier Wars and honour the sacrifice of the First Nations People? No-one would tell Jews to get over the holocaust. Why should Australia's indigenous people 'get over' the genocide. Besides, there's a difference between getting over something and remembrance. Some Jews have moved from the holocaust, some haven't; but either way they still remember and commemorate it. Some Australians have not yet gotten over the cruelty of the Japanese in World War II. This was evidenced during the 2003 Rugby World Cup, when Townsville embraced the games played by Japan. Some locals were horrified that other locals were carrying Japanese flags and wearing Japanese jerseys. Either way, the city remembered and commemorated the anniversary of Battle of the Coral Sea and other events from the War in the Pacific. 'Getting over it' doesn't mean forgetting it or that there can be no remembrance or commemoration. 

As a way of celebrating Australia Day 2018, the Liberal Party in Victoria (currently sitting in opposition), has promised to ditch the cross-curriculum priorities of teaching students about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories in favour of teaching 'Australian values' and ... wait for it ... the Orwellian-titled 'principles of Western enlightenment'(14). We've seen the Australian values that the extreme right-wing of the Liberal Party embrace: genocide, ethnic cleansing, racial purity, racism, xenophobia.

Contrast this with New South Wales, where the Labor Party (also currently in opposition) has promised to sign a Treaty with indigenous people which will likely recognise the historic wrongs of the past(15).

Australia Day has become somewhat of a battle-ground between nationalist white Australians who feel indigenous people should just get over it, and those people who see it as Invasion Day, signifying the beginning of colonisation. Of course, there are Aussies who are not at either end of the spectrum, who are just happy to celebrate being Australian. A recent study found that most Australians don't care what day Australia Day is held(16). There are also indigenous people who are not in favour of moving Australia Day, while some are. However, most indigenous people, whether they want to move Australia Day or not, are in agreement on the need for acknowledgement and recognition of the atrocities their people have suffered, and continue to suffer. It is this lack of recognition that is one of the most hurtful issues.

Institutionalised racism perpetuates the disadvantage indigenous people continue to experience. Only recently, an article tried to argue that Australia wasn't invaded because if it was, then Native Title wouldn't apply. This is because United Nations Resolution 3314, the 'Right of Conquest', doesn't consider the descendants of the conquered and the conquerors as being two separate peoples if they are both equal under the law prior to World War II(17). This article ignores the plain fact that indigenous people were not equal under the law prior to World War II. It completely glosses over, in fact ignores, the massacres and genocide, the ethnic cleansing, the eugenics, the institutionalised racism. This article argued semantics while ignoring dispossession. Further, Resolution 3314 specifically is discussing aggression between States. One could hardly argue that the First Nations People constituted a State, as there were hundreds of separate tribes, no formal government and no head of state. Further, Article 7 of this Resolution states:

Nothing in this Definition, and in particular article 3, could in any way prejudice the right to self-determination, freedom and independence, as derived from the Charter, of peoples forcibly deprived of that right and referred to in the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, particularly peoples under colonial and racist regimes or other forms of alien domination: nor the right of these peoples to struggle to that end and to seek and receive support, in accordance with the principles of the Charter and in conformity with the above-mentioned Declaration.(18)

Sadly, people swallowed this article and shared it across social media, as though it completely shot down any claim of Australia's genocidal past. It is pure ignorance and empowers far too many people to continue the lack of recognition or understanding of indigenous issues and Australian history.

The Australia Day holiday hasn't always been held on 26 January. Other dates included 24 May, which was introduced in 1905 as Empire Day and happened to be Queen Victoria's birthday. In 1915, Australia Day was held on 30 July. The Australian Natives Association lobbied for years for Australia Day to be held on 26 January. Don't get too excited about the name of this association, it was not an association of indigenous people. It was an association of white men with the aim to provide medical, sickness and funeral benefits to people born in Australia of European descent. The Association lobbied for federation, which was achieved in 1901. In the 1930s, it lobbied for 26 January being recognised as Australia Day. In 1935, this was achieved when all states agreed on the date(19). It wasn't until the 1940s that Australia Day was formalised as a national holiday. However, prior to 1994, the holiday was usually held on the nearest Monday to 26 January so that Australians could enjoy a long weekend. 26 January has been a day of controversy for indigenous Australians, a day that marks the invasion of their land, displacement, disadvantage, inequality and ongoing racism.

Protests against 26 January are not new. On 26 January 1938, the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet, indigenous leaders met in Sydney for a Day of Mourning to protest the displacement and abuse that they had suffered since 1788(20).

Meanwhile, the government showed how inclusive 1938's Australia Day was by forcing 25 aborigines from Menindee Mission in far west NSW to perform in a re-enactment of the First Fleet. They were to play the part of retreating aborigines and were told that their families would starve if they didn't do it(21).

A variety of dates have been used for Australia Day(22)

The attitude of two former Prime Ministers, Tony Abbott and John Howard, shows that Australia has a long way to go in overcoming centuries of racism. Both of these men, by the way, claim to be Christians, defending Christian values. Apparently, ignoring genocide and institutionalised racism fits well with their version of Christianity.

Telling indigenous people to 'move on' because this 'happened 200 years ago', clearly shows that the same attitudes of 200 years ago still prevail in sections of the white community. Perhaps it is they who need to move on from their racist and ignorant views and accept that it is their very attitudes and approach to indigenous issues that are perpetuating the disadvantage and inequality First Nations People experience to this day.

For three days in May 2017, indigenous leaders from around the country met at Uluru to discuss whether a constitutional change was required to recognise indigenous Australians. This followed six months of consultations with indigenous people. At the end of the three day summit, the leaders presented the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which included a recommendation to establish a permanent indigenous body in federal parliament enshrined in the Constitution. This was a lengthy and democratic process that culminated in a pragmatic consensus of indigenous leaders. Yet the federal government rejected it. Prime Minister Turnbull said no. He said no to the wishes of the majority of our First Nations people.(23)

Australia Day has been subject to a white-washing of history. It is not a 'black arm-band' view of history to tell the truth about what happened and is still happening to this day. It is about recognition and honesty.

Move Australia Day to a day that is not linked to the bloodshed and dispossession of indigenous people. Chose a day that is less divisive and doesn't represent the invasion of this land.

While some indigenous people want it to stay on 26 January, two quotes by indigenous people stand out explaining why it should be moved.

Karen Mundine, chief executive of Reconciliation Australia, stated, 'Asking Indigenous people to celebrate on January 26 is like asking them to dance on their ancestors' graves'.

Richard Weston of the Healing Foundation states, 'For most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, January 26th is a reminder of the pain and loss caused by 230 years of dispossession, dislocation and mistreatment. It is impossible to celebrate when it brings to mind the deep hurt borne by our ancestors and how that suffering continues to impact us today'.(7)

Of course, another solution could be to have a day of recognition for indigenous Australia. The Australian Capital Territory has announced that 28 May 2018 will be the first Reconciliation Day public holiday(24). Each year the holiday will be held on the Monday on or immediately after 27 May, which is the anniversary of the 1967 referendum in which Australians voted to amend the Constitution to allow indigenous people to be counted in the census and to access better services(25).

Whether Australia Day is moved or not, and certainly while it remains on 26 January, we must stop ignoring the issues past and present. As a start, at least acknowledge and recognise these matters which still affect indigenous people to this day. This isn't about wallowing in the past, it is about remembrance ... and isn't the only day of remembrance held.

Consider that the indigenous population of Australia in 1788 was more than 777,000, by 1900 had fallen by 85% to around 117,000(26). More than 650,000 were killed by military action, murders by settlers, and disease. Imagine if Australia of today, with a population of 24 million, was invaded for a foreign force and close to decimated, it would see more than 20 million people dead. Surely there would be a day of remembrance! Why should this be any different for the First Nations People?

By today's definition, it was genocide. While the term didn't exist until the 20th century, the definition of genocide under the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which applies in both times of peace and times of war, is (a) killing members of the group, (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group(27). Each of these actions were undertaken against the First Nations People, whether it be by the violent actions of the military and settlers, government policies that dehumanised indigenous people, the eugenics discussed above, the slave-like conditions they were forced into, the stolen wages, and of course the Stolen Generations. No other people group would be expected to forget this or told to just 'get over it'.

'Getting over it' doesn't mean forgetting it or that there can be no remembrance or commemoration. 

Telling indigenous people that these things belong in the past is to ignore the fact, that those actions of the past are still felt to this day. For instance, almost every Aboriginal community that the government is fond of criticising, was created by the government as it relocated different Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander tribes to common areas, which they then also used for shipping Pacific Islanders to (remember the slave-trading black-birding? Another shameful moment in Australian history).

Campaigns to change the date are not new. Indigenous people have been protesting against 26 January since at least 1938. So this isn't the result of the modern phenomenon of 'political correctness gone mad', that some people like to use as some sort of ubiquitous boogey-man to hide their racism and ignorance behind.

Why forget the sacrifices of indigenous people of the past? Why forget about the racist behaviours and policies that empowered the abuse of indigenous people? As Italian philosopher, George Santayana wrote, 'Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it'. The anger by many Australians about the calls for a change of date, and even just to remember indigenous history, vividly demonstrates why it is imperative that we do not gloss over or forget the past abuses and the present issues faced by indigenous people.

No-one is being held accountable for the massacres of the 19th century, however, we are all accountable for the institutionalised racism and ignorant, racist views of people today, some of whom are political leaders who have their heads in the sand about indigenous history and current affairs. Only then, can we begin to address the underlying causes of social issues and disadvantage that challenge much of indigenous Australia today.

Lest We Forget!


1. Macintyre, 2015, Chapter 2 Newcomers, c. 1600 - 1792. A Concise History of Australia: Edition 4, Cambridge University Press

2. Reynolds, H. 2000, Chapter X - Confronting the Myth of Peaceful Settlement, Why Weren't We Told?, Penguin.

3. University of Newcastle, The Centre for 21st Century Humanities, Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia 1788 - 1872 Accessed 24 January 2018.

4. National Museum of Australia, First Australians, Coniston Massacre Accessed 24 January 2018.

5. The Guardian, Helen Davidson, John Howard: there was no genocide against Indigenous Australians, 22 September 2014, Accessed 24 January 2018.

6. SBS, NITV, Nakari Thorpe, 'He's an idiot': Abbott's First Fleet 'good' for Aboriginal people comment met with outrage, 22 January 2018, Accessed 24 January 2018.

7. ABC, Anna Henderson, Prime Minister Tony Abbott describes Sydney as 'nothing but bush' before First Fleet arrived in 1788, 14 November 2014, Accessed 24 January 2018.

8. The Guardian, Calla Wahlquist and Paul Karp, What our leaders say about Australia Day - and where did it start, anyway?, 19 January 2018, Accessed 25 January 2018.

9. Museums Victoria Collections, Item HT 24038, Book - AO Neville, 'Australia's Coloured Minority: Its Place in the Community', Currawong Publishing Co, 1947 Accessed 24 January 2018.

10. Eugenics Archives, The Stolen Generations Accessed 24 January 2018.

11. Australasian Legal Information Institute, Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law, Unfinished Business: The Australian Stolen Generations Accessed 24 January 2018.

12. Rosalind Kidd, 2000. Black Lives, Government Lies, UNSW Press.

13. Creative Spirits,, Aboriginal culture - Economy - Stolen Wages Timeline, Accessed 24 January 2018.

14. SBS News, Source: AAP, Victorian Liberals vow to teach students 'Australian values', 24 January 2018, Accessed 24 January 2018.

15. The Guardian, Calla Wahlquist, NSW Labor plans to sign treaty recognising Indigenous ownership, 25 January 2018, Accessed 25 January 2018.

16. The Sydney Morning Herald, Adam Gartrell, Most don't care when Australia Day is held, poll finds, 18 January 2018, Accessed 24 January 2018.

17. WA Today, Sherry Sufi, Inconvenient fact: Native title can only exist if Australia was settled, not invaded, 20 January 2018, Accessed 24 January 2018.

18. United Nations General Assembly, Resolutions Adopted By The General Assembly During Its Twenty-Ninth Session, 3314 (XXIX) Definition of Aggression An HTML version is available at: Accessed 25 January 2018.

19. National Australia Day Council Ltd, About Australia Day, History Accessed 25 January 2018.

20. The Conversation, Kate Darian-Smith, Australia Day, Invasion Day, Survival Day: a long history of celebration and contestation, 26 January 2017, Accessed 24 January 2018.

21. ABC News, Aimee Volkofsky, 'We thought we were going to be massacred': 80 years since forced First Fleet re-enactment, 25 January 2018, Accessed 25 January 2018.

22., Charis Chang, Debunking the myth of Australia Day, 29 August 2017, Accessed 25 January 2017.

23. ABC News , Bridget Brennan, Indigenous leaders enraged as advisory board referendum rejected by Malcolm Turnbull, 27 October 2017, Accessed 25 January 2018.

24.  ACT Government, Open Government, Reconciliation Day Public Holiday an Australian first, 14 September 2017, Accessed 25 January 2018.

25. State Library of Victoria, Ergo, The 1967 Referendum Accessed 25 January 2018.

26. Creative Spirits,, Aboriginal population in Australia Accessed 25 January 2018.

27. United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, Genocide Accessed 26 January 2018.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

African 'Gangs' of Melbourne - crisis or media beat-up and politically expedient tool for conservatives?

African 'Gangs' of Melbourne - crisis or media beat-up and politically expedient tool for conservatives?

The Liberal Party of modern times, has shown that it has no capacity for debate, only for division.

James Buchanan, 15th President of the US, stated, 'The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there'.

The federal Liberal Party has not been eliciting greatness from Australians, but dog-whistling to elicit fear and hated.

Their latest target has been so-called 'African gangs' allegedly running amok in Melbourne.

The issue with these 'gangs' kicked off a few years ago when a group of people who supposedly called themselves 'The Apex Gang' rained havoc on the streets of Melbourne through car-jackings, home invasions, assaults and robberies. One of their most notorious escapades was when a large number of them descended on the Moomba festival in March 2016 and attacked innocent festival-goers. It made for sensational headlines and the media went on a feeding-frenzy, whipping up hysteria within the community.

The media reported this 'gang' as being African, which caused all sorts of issues with racial profiling and stereotyping. The police were reluctant to call them a gang, which greatly upset a lot of people who felt the cops were being 'politically correct'. However, there were two things the police pointed out. One was that gangs are organised and comprised the same people meeting regularly, whereas this was a loose collection of young people who occasionally hung out together with no regularity in attendees. They did commit crimes, but it wasn't the organised style of activity that police are used to seeing with 'gangs', such as Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. Of course, 'gangs' helps to generate more fear among the population than if they are referred to as a 'loose collection of young people connected on social media'. Additionally, they were not all Sudanese, even though this was how it was reported. The police issued numerous corrections stating that Apex was comprised of Anglo-Saxons, Maoris, Pacific Islanders, Afghans and Sudanese(1).

Yet, the public bays for blood and wants to know why the government isn't deporting these young criminals. That is probably because most of the so-called Apex 'gang' were Australian-born, which contradicted the popular narrative in the media. The Police Commissioner went on to state that 'young people born overseas were less likely to commit crimes'.(2). Nonetheless, at least four have been subject to deportation proceedings(3). It is pertinent to note that three of the four are from New Zealand and one is from Sudan.

The stereotyping of Africans as being criminals or gang members is counter-productive. It encourages racist taunts and attacks, which mean that many in the Sudanese community need to stay close together for their own protection. This garners even more negative attention from those fear-ridden people who are manipulated by headlines to fear groups of Sudanese(4).

The danger with this stereotyping and dog-whistling is that police are pressured into addressing crime within the South Sudanese community, while crime by other groups is not responded to as quickly. For instance, in December 2017, a group of about 60 African youths rioted at a McDonald's restaurant in St Kilda, before attacking people in and around the restaurant(5). Obviously a bad situation, very anti-social and people have a right to be upset about it and demand justice. However, just a few weeks after that, more than 100 white people rioted in the Victorian town of Torquay. It barely rated a mention in the paper, and the rioters were described as a 'group' rather than a 'gang'(6) ... (hmm, who's being politically correct now?). Since then, the Murdoch papers have been reporting every infraction by Africans and seemingly ignoring crimes committed by white Aussies, even though white Aussies commit the vast majority of crimes in Melbourne.

It has become a political issue ... not for community safety, but for political points scoring. The federal Liberal Party has been attacking Victoria's Labor government under Premier Daniel Andrews, blaming them for the problem, even though the Andrews government has committed $2 billion to hiring 3,000 new police officers, $288 million for a high security youth detention centre, and breached human rights laws by housing children in adult prisons(6). Hardly an example of a 'soft-on-crime' government. But then, the federal Liberal Party has been breaching international laws on human rights, refugees, children and torture for years by indefinitely detaining asylum seekers and refugees in inhumane off-shore detention facilities ... oh and subjecting them to torture and human rights abuses(7). Perhaps that is what the Liberal Party is expecting of the Andrews government ... to torture African youths.

Peter Dutton's new year's resolutions

While complaining about Labor being soft on crime, the previous Liberal Party led Victorian government had slashed more than $100 million from the police budget and reduced police numbers by 400(8). As is often the case in Australian politics, the Liberal Party budget cuts impact essential services and exacerbate social issues, including crime, leaving the next Labor government to increase spending to rectify the damage the Liberal Party caused. 

Victoria's Police Commissioner ripped into the federal government and sections of the media for misrepresenting the issue of 'African gangs'(9). One of the so-called 'African gang' incidents that the media went apoplectic over was an affray at Tarneit Central Shopping Centre in which African youths got into a scuffle with Police and journalists. However, Police later discovered that the incident did not involve a gang, nor did it involve African youths going on a violent rampage. What they did discover was that the incident had been provoked by the aggressive behaviour of a journalist who saw some African youths just sitting around behaving themselves. This mental giant decided that because they were African, they must be trouble-makers and went over to take photos of these kids simply because they were African. Not surprisingly, the young fellas got a little upset about this and things went pear-shaped from there. The photographer later apologised and acknowledged his behaviour caused the incident, however, his employer, The Daily Mail, did not mention this but instead reported how the youths abused their reporter. The police sent a terse email to a number of media outlets warning them against such behaviour and to not inflame situations(10).

On 11 January 2018, a South Sudanese family living in Brisbane was followed home, racially abused and threatened by an enraged white Australian man who for some inexplicable reason then invoked the names of a number of Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. The victim of the attack posted videos of it to Facebook and placed the blame for the attack on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, for creating division and racism.(11) The government's racist rhetoric normalises hate speech and empowers aggressive, violent behaviour by people who have a warped sense of patriotism. But their idea of patriotism equates to white supremacy and fascist control over all who disagree or are different. The government should be condemning racism, but instead thrives on it. It should be condemning nationalism and fascism, yet these are the tools it uses to spread fear and hatred so it can portray itself as society's saviour, riding in like a shining knight on a white horse draped in flags of white supremacy.

Johannes Leak, The Australian,

The issue has escalated to a point where it is becoming very dangerous for anyone who appears to be Muslim or from Africa. Concerns about innocent people being attacked by African 'gangs' are understandable given the sensationalist reporting by the media and dog-whistling by unscrupulous politicians. However, what about attacks on innocent Africans? There have been calls for vigilantes to do what the police can't. This in itself is disturbing because the police are taking action and vigilantes will just make it more difficult for them to do their job. Vigilantes will be adding to the crimes that police need to investigate, making things worse, not better. Far Right groups are threatening to 'take a stand' against the African gang crisis(12). Dutton, Turnbull and sensationalist media coverage are empowering racism and hate crimes. Channel 7 was heavily criticised for reporting on a far-right meeting about taking action against the 'immigrant crime crisis'. Channel 7's story was sympathetic to the views of the far-right group, rather than challenging the groups' intentions to target immigrants who are already persecuted and discriminated against(13).  Victoria Police has reported an increase in death threats against African-Australians(14).

Yes, those who commit crimes should answer to the law, whether they are from South Sudan, Australia, New Zealand or anywhere else. However, if people genuinely want to address youth crime, then we need to acknowledge and address the cause of the problem rather than only react to the symptom. Following Apex's rampage through Moomba, a Victoria Police summit to get to the root of the problem identified that disengagement, disadvantage and 'feeling locked out of society', were key contributors(2).

Disengagement and 'feeling locked out of society'. The blatant racism, stereotyping, demonising and victimisation of refugees and asylum seekers, along with disgraceful attacks against Islam, are THE reasons why many refugees feel 'locked out of society'; why many feel a disengagement. The right-wing state that many of these refugees can't assimilate, yet the right-wing does not give them a chance to. The right-wingers do not want refugees to assimilate because they do not want them here. It is the right-wing who is refusing to assimilate. They are more than happy to embrace messages of hate and fear if that matches their own racist views. Interestingly, the Islamophobia that is promoted by everyone from neo-Nazis to pentecostal preachers is often used to tar all refugees and asylum seekers, yet most refugees from South Sudan are Christian(15).

It is easy for the federal government to dog-whistle and blame Victoria's Labor government, however, part of the issue can be firmly blamed on the government of Tony Abbott, which banned many refugees from working or undertaking educational programs, while constantly referring to them as illegals and whipping up fear and hatred against them. Additionally, the federal government has defunded employment and training programs for young people, which is a contributor to the disadvantage that the police summit identified. Gee, what could possibly go wrong.

The federal government has taken a scatter-gun approach about who to blame for the so-called 'African gang crisis'. They are also blaming the judiciary for being full of civil libertarians who are 'soft on sentencing'. Not surprisingly, the judiciary hasn't appreciated this attack on them by a government that is doing its best to sow division, fear and hatred in the community for the sake of maintaining its political power. The Law Council has criticised the federal government, pointing out that these attacks undermine the rule of law and threaten the independence of the judiciary(16).

Facts haven't factored into the federal government's dog-whistling, even though the Police have pointed out numerous times that youth crime has reduced over the last few quarters. By comparison to other states, Victoria's youth crime is quite low, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics reporting that in 2015/16, Queensland had 12,931 youth offenders, New South Wales had 20,051 and Victoria languished at 8,726(17).

South Sudanese comprise 0.14% of Victoria's population, with 1.5% of criminal offenders being Sudanese, indicating that they are over-represented in crimes. In relation to charges of riot and affray, Sudanese contributed 6%, while people born in Australia comprised 71.5% and 5.2% were born in New Zealand(18). Fiona Dowley, chief statistician from Victoria's Crime Statistics Agency, explained that these figures include people who have been linked to crimes, but who 'may not have been through a court process, they have not been found guilty of anything, and they may not even have been charged'(19). Clearly, there are crimes being committed by some from the South Sudanese community, but they are not the majority of criminals.

There is a school of thought that the 'gang crisis' is the creation of the Herald-Sun. This wouldn't be the first time that a media outlet has created a gang crisis. In Adelaide a few years ago, media coined the term 'Gang of 49' in relation to a number of indigenous people who were committing crimes. They weren't a gang at all(20). Yes, they were committing crimes ... but, gang? Why? Again it helps to promote racism and fear if the community can be convinced that they are under attack by an organised syndicate of people who are somehow different to them.

Similarly, the Apex 'gang' was hardly that ... until the Herald Sun ran with it. The upshot was that what started as a loosely aligned group of about 200 young people, mushroomed to 400 through the notoriety that Apex gained from the sensationalist coverage in the media(21).

The dog-whistling and sensationalism is not helping the issue. It is pressuring police in such a way as to potentially cause police resources to be redirected from other areas to focus on a small community. It has resulted in police racially profiling Africans even though people born in Australia are responsible for most car-jackings, home invasions and aggravated robberies(22). Some media outlets and the federal government are thriving on community division ... all because some media outlets want to sell papers and undermine the Labor government, while conservative politicians profit from racism and fear in order to undermine Labor.

Rather than help the poor and persecuted, conservatives exacerbate poverty and persecute the persecuted.

Rather than do what's best for the country, conservatives do what's best for themselves.

Rather than allay fear, conservatives thrive on it.

Rather than condemn racism, conservatives revel in it.

Rather than build community, conservatives divide it.

African 'gangs' are not the biggest problem facing Australia; the rise of ultra-conservative nationalism and the normalisation of hate speech and hate crime is.

Media sensationalism declaring Victoria is a 'State of Fear', while politicians exploit the issue for votes


1. The Age, Nino Bucci, Has Apex gang been mortally wounded?, 21 February 2017, Accessed 13 January 2018.

2. The Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Koziol, Apex gang: most youth crimes committed by Australian-born offenders, police say, 12 April 2017. Accessed 13 January 2018.

3. Business Insider, Sarah Kimmorley, Australia is deporting members of Melbourne's Apex gang, 19 January 2017. Accessed 13 January 2018.

4. The Guardian, Calla Wahlquist, 'We're not a gang': the unfair stereotyping of African-Australians, 6 January 2018, Accessed 13 January 2018.

5. The Weekend Australian, Olivia Caisley, Wild gang brawl sees teens bashed by African gang in St Kilda, 15 December 2017, Accessed 13 January 2018.

6. The Guardian, Calla Wahlquist, Victoria's 'gang crisis' and how the election creates a double standard on crime, 9 January 2018, Accessed 13 January 2018.

7. The Guardian, Ben Doherty and Daniel Hurst, UN accuses Australia of systematically violating torture convention, 10 March 2015, Accessed 14 January 2018. The full report can be found here: United Nations Human Rights Council, Twenty-Eights Session, Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E Mendez

8. Herald Sun, Peter Mickelburough, More police staff to be made redundant despite crime being on the rise, 13 June 2013, Accessed 13 January 2018.

9. Junkee, Osman Faruqi, Victoria's Top Cop Has Ripped Into Peter Dutton's Comments Over "African Gangs", 10 January 2018, Accessed 13 January 2018.

10. The Guardian, Margaret Simons, Melbourne police say Daily Mail provoked African 'gang flare-up' scuffle, 11 January 2018, Accessed 13 January 2018.

11. The Guardian, Christopher Knaus, South Sudanese-Australian man blames Turnbull and Dutton for 'racial attack' on family, 12 January 2018, Accessed 13 January 2018.

12. The Age, Liam Mannix, Far Right group threatens to take a stand over 'African gangs', 12 January 2018, Accessed 13 January 2018.

13. The Guardian, Melissa Davey, Channel Seven under fire over interview with far-right activist, 15 January 2018, Accessed 15 January 2018.

14. The Age, Nino Bucci, 'How long since you've been out for dinner?': Police chief rubbishes 'gang crisis', 11 January 2018, Accessed 13 January 2018.

15. Australian Government, Department of Social Services, Sudanese Community Profile, 2007, Accessed 13 January 2018.

16. The Guardian, Paul Karp, Legal body says rule of law threatened after Dutton's criticism of judiciary, 15 January 2018, Accessed 15 January 2018.

17. SBS News, AAP - SBS, Victoria Police, African leaders talk gang crime, 12 January 2018, Accessed 13 January 2018.

18. The Guardian, Calla Wahlquist, Is Melbourne in the grip of African crime gangs? The facts behind the lurid headlines, 3 January 2018, Accessed 13 January 2018.

19. The Guardian, Calla Wahlquist, #AfricanGangs: social media responds to Melbourne's 'crisis', 10 January 2018, Accessed 13 January 2018.

20. Adelaide Now, Bryan Littlely, Special Report - Inside SA's violent street gangs, 9 April 2010, Accessed 13 January 2018.

21. Crikey, Emily Watkins and Kanika Sood, Did the Herald Sun invent the Sudanese youth Apex gang?, 21 April 2017, Accessed 13 January 2018.

22. The Age, Tammy Mills and Bianca Hall, Apex fears spark concerns about racial profiling, 8 January 2017, Accessed 13 January 2018.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Drugs are bad ... mkay? BUT the War on Drugs is badder!

Drugs are bad ... mkay? BUT the War on Drugs is badder!

One of the fallacies that dominates the thinking of many people, is that if something is legalised, then it is being condoned.

Drugs are a case in point.

Legalising drugs doesn't necessarily mean or imply that proponents advocate blazing up at every given opportunity.

Instead, the case for legalisation is in response to evidence that criminalising drug use causes more harm than it prevents. The irony is that legalisation, or even its poor cousin, decriminalisation, actually saves lives and makes it easier for users to get off the drug.


Criminalisation means that drug users become criminals if busted and may end up being jailed. Prison is not a rehabilitation centre, it's a place to network with other criminals. Prison is nothing more than a school for developing or honing ones criminal skills. Recidivism rates have increased in Australia as incarceration rates increase. With prisons at bursting point, the courts should be limiting incarceration to those who have committed serious crimes against other persons or property, not those whose actions are not harming others.(1)

Perhaps the most ubiquitous drug has been marijuana, or cannabis. Modern society was founded on the cannabis plant(2), from the hemp products used on the ships that facilitated international trade and colonisation,to the paper used for writing, manufacture of clothing, provision of food and nourishment, to the spiritual element of the plant that is mentioned in ancient scripture of numerous religions. The bible refers to it as both incense and intoxicant, for example, one of numerous scriptures where it appears is Exodus 30:21-25, in which God drops a recipe on Moses for making a holy anointing oil that includes myrrh, sweet cinnamon, sweet 'calamus', cassia and olive oil. Calamus is a modern translation of the original word 'kaneh bosm', which is the Ancient Hebrew word for cannabis.(3)

Marijuana is the people's drug. It is easy and quick to grow, doesn't require a degree in chemistry, and there have been no deaths from the direct consumption of the natural grown product. However, the prohibition of this drug has destroyed countless lives, through execution, incarceration, children being removed from parents by over-zealous authorities, wars waged in developing countries that have directly killed innocent people, increases in famine and starvation as a result of removing such a viable food source. Having a criminal record makes it more difficult for people to be accepted back into society. Many employers will not employ people who have a criminal record or have spent time in the big house.

The decades-long US-led War on Drugs has been a dismal failure. The United States started it with the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914. This was followed by the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which had nothing to do with keeping Americans safe from marijuana and everything to do with pandering to big business, in this case, the DuPont Corporation.

Of course, pandering to big business is not going to resonate well with the electorate, so the government resorted to the old chestnuts: fear and racism. It produced ludicrous propaganda movies, with one of the most famous being Reefer Madness. This little piece of blatant fear-mongering, showed how quickly murder and mayhem would ensue from one toke of a reefer! Shock, gasp, horror! Lock up your daughters and protect them from the evil herb!

This followed on from newspapers in the early 20th century reporting that cocaine-crazed black men were raping white women. William Hearst, the newspaper owner, reveled in sensationalism and had used racism for years to attack African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Latinos, going back to the 1898 Spanish American War. The demonisation of the world's most useful and versatile plant to a sinister turn through terminology. Everyone knew the usefulness of hemp. Hell, they were either growing it or wearing it. They knew of the medicinal qualities because most had used cannabis tinctures. So the demonisation could not refer to hemp or cannabis if it was to be most effective. Hearst used a Mexican colloquialism that had the added benefit of not only being unknown to most English-speaking people, being Mexican added to the mystery and fear. The word: marijuana ... or as it became known in the United States by people who couldn't reconcile the letter 'j' being pronounced as an 'h': marihuana.(4)

The ubiquitous hemp plant had been used for the production of clothing, rope and medicine until 1937. Up to 90% of rope products were manufactured from hemp(5). After 1937, this was replaced by petrochemical products mainly manufactured by DuPont. Both of these Acts effectively outlawed cannabis products, including cannabinoid medicines which had been used to treat conditions such as glaucoma, asthma, tumours, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, back pain, muscle spasms, arthritis, herpes, cystic fibrosis, rheumatism, migraines, as well as provide nausea relief and increase appetite in patients undergoing cancer treatment. In the 19th century, cannabis tinctures were prescribed to men, women and children in daily dosages that would equate to today's marijuana user's moderate to heavy intake over a one to two month period(6)

 It was used as currency for decades in the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries. Farmers were encouraged to grow it during this time. During World War 2, farmers were again encouraged to grow it for the war effort(7). The American government considered hemp to be a patriotic crop and produced posters and movies declaring Hemp For Victory. After the war, it was again demonised as a killer crop and was again rebadged as marijuana.

Videos of both Reefer Madness and Hemp for Victory are embedded at the bottom of this article.

Hemp is a crop that was the staple go-to for civilisations around the world for centuries. It has the potential to end starvation in developing nations, yet the War on Drugs has decimated hemp crops. In the 19th century, Australia survived two famines through a reliance on hempseed for protein and roughage.(8)

American conservative commentator, William F. Buckley Jr, stated, 'Marijuana never kicks down your door in the middle of the night. Marijuana never locks up sick and dying people, does not suppress medical research, does not peek in bedroom windows. Even if one takes every reefer madness allegation of the prohibitionists at face value, marijuana prohibition has done far more harm to far more people than marijuana ever could'.

As previously seen, racism played a significant role in the demonisation of marijuana and it didn't stop in the 1930s. In 1994, John Ehrlichmann, a former assistant to disgraced President Richard Nixon, admitted that Nixon's war on drugs during the 1960s and 1970s was based on the exploitation of racism and fear. Ehrlichmann stated:

'The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did'.(9)

Like any product, the drug industry obeys the laws of economics, namely supply and demand. It also follows the law of greed, that is, the maximisation of profit, which can occur through driving the price up or diluting the product.

Despite the best efforts of drug enforcement agencies boasting of large-scale drug busts and increasing numbers of users incarcerated, drug overdose deaths have increased 540% and drug problems worsened since 1980(10). This is a result of the 'balloon effect', that is by squeezing the drug industry in one area, only results in shifting the problem to another area.

Efforts to stop the supply of drugs have done nothing other than shift the problem to other regions or products. For instance, in the 1970s, the US targeted marijuana production in Mexico and Jamaica. While production of marijuana in these regions reduced, the overall production of marijuana merely relocated to other regions, such as Colombia. As US efforts zeroed in on Colombia's marijuana production, the Colombian producers expanded into other areas that were easier to transport, namely cocaine. Targeting supply-side factors is like squeezing a balloon; one area may be constricted, but it will pop up in another area. Demand for marijuana did not decline, while supply and demand for cocaine increased.

United States efforts to target methamphetamine commenced with regulating the precursor ingredients that the large drug labs were using to produce it. This initially saw a reduction in hospital admissions of people addicted to meth. However, the regulations did not stop the small scale producers, and resulted in the spread of small meth labs all over the country using readily-available over-the-counter chemicals, such as cold and flu medication. While the final product was less pure than that developed by the large-scale producers, it was still an effective methamphetamine. There was also an increase in do-it-yourself production. So the balloon effect of targeting supply, initially reduced usage, but ultimately ended up increasing supply using smaller labs selling cheaper product and eventually increasing demand. And then the government focused on the ingredients that the small labs used. This reduced local production, but increased imports from countries such as Mexico, which facilitated the growth of drug cartels throughout this region.

Targeting marijuana in Mexico did effectively reduce marijuana production there, however, the Mexican drug cartels increased as they expanded into more lucrative and easier to transport products, such as heroin, cocaine and crystal methamphetamine (ice), which was driven by demand to fill the void created by the reduction in domestic US production following law enforcement efforts at home.

In terms of harm to the individual and its flow-on effects to wider society, the banning of drugs in general has done more harm than good, with increases in consumption and prices, increased organised crime, increased property and violent offences as poorer users try to find money to pay for the drugs, increases in HIV/AIDS because of poor injection practices, increased drug purity and potency, increased hospital admissions because of the higher demand and increased potency, increase in human rights abuses and environmental damage in developing nations being forced to comply with US drug policy in order to access aid funding.

Prior to banning of drugs, usage was lower and subsequently there were fewer addicts. The 19th century and early 20th century saw the usage of drugs such as opium, cannabis and cocaine. From a health perspective, marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco.

The wiser alternative to the war on drugs, is to treat drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal one. This strategy is known as 'harm reduction'. In Australia there has been much controversy about the opening of drug injection rooms. In Switzerland, a similar program established heroin maintenance facilities, providing a safe environment to treat and stabilise addicts. This resulted in a sharp decrease in drug-related crime and a third of the addicts obtaining employment. There was a 50% reduction in the number of injection-related HIV/AIDS cases(11). It did not result in an increase in drug use.

In Holland, authorities provide facilities to test the purity of ecstasy tablets. Users are warned if dangerous chemicals such as strychnine are identified. Additionally, Holland decriminalised marijuana and hashish, resulting in fewer arrests for minor possession, no increase in drug use, heavy investment in treatment, prevention and harm reduction(12).

In the year 2001, Portugal decriminalised all drugs, and has since proven to be an exemplar for harm reduction. Its model was to treat drug possession and use of small amounts of drugs as a health issue rather than a criminal one. While drugs remain illegal, people caught with drugs may face a small fine and possible referral to a treatment program. They do not get jail time and are not saddled with a criminal record. There has been a significant reduction in the number of overdose deaths, with Portugal recording 3 deaths per one million citizens, compared to the European Union which records an average of 17.3 deaths per one million. In the UK, there are 44.6 deaths per million.(13) There has also been a 90% reduction in drug-related HIV/AIDS infections, significant reduction in use of dangerous 'legal high' drugs such as synthetic marijuana, 44% reduction in incarceration of drug-related offenders, and a 60% increase in the number of people in drug treatments(14). Following decriminalisation, there was a slight increase in drug use, that peaked in 2007, but has since been declining, with two of the three measures used showing lower drug use than in 2001, as shown in the following table(15).

A number of Australian jurisdictions have decriminalised marijuana, with no significant increase in drug usage. Additionally, there are some areas with harm reduction programs in place, such as safe-injection rooms in Sydney's Kings Cross and trials of similar facilities in Melbourne's Richmond precinct. The number of ambulance call-outs in Kings Cross have reduced by 80%, there has been no increase in crime, and the number of publicly discarded needles and syringes has halved. Similar facilities in Vancouver, saw a 35% reduction in fatal overdoses and 30% increase in people seeking detox and addiction treatment.(16)

Globally the war on drugs has failed. In 1998, the UN unleashed a war on drugs as well. Like the US-led one, this was also a failure. The winners of the war are the criminal organisations raking in $320 billion per annum. There have been thousands executed, millions incarcerated, including more than 1.4 million in the US during 2014

A number of countries still have the death penalty for possession and trafficking. Every year, Iran executes hundreds of people for drug offences, including juveniles, yet drug addiction doubled in the six years from 2011 to 2017(17).

Clearly, even the harshest penalties do not deter people from using drugs.

While there is little attention given to the hundreds of people executed globally each year because of drugs charges, there have been some high profile executions, including Indonesia's execution of Bali 9 duo, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in 2015, and Malaysia's execution of Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers in 1986. Some people have no sympathy for drug traffickers being executed. Their argument is that had these people succeeded in their drug trafficking countless lives would have been ruined with the drugs. However, this argument fails to consider the fact that most drug dealers do not push drugs onto people. Drug users have a way of finding the drugs themselves. People who start on drugs generally have a desire to try them without anyone needing to force the drugs onto them.

The argument that traffickers could have killed innocent people is absurd and fails to acknowledge the responsibility that drug users must take for their habit. The term 'pusher' is a misnomer. Drug 'pushers' are drug dealers. It is rare for one to actively force people to take drugs. Dealers are simply meeting the demand of the market.

People should not be executed because of the demand of people who fail to take responsibility for themselves or who blame others for their situation.

In 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy released a report condemning the war on drugs as a dismal failure that has destroyed lives. It acknowledged the balloon effect discussed above, in which the war on drugs has merely displaced the areas of production, as well as resulted in substance displacement, in which users have moved to new substances when their drug of choice experiences supply shortages because of law enforcement actions. Ironically, marijuana has often been described as a gateway drug, despite any evidence to the contrary, however, the gateway is provided through the War on Drugs itself as it targets supply-side activities. Additionally, as users are interacting with dealers, they are exposed to other drugs and may be more willing to try those. Among the Global Commission's recommendations were replacing criminalisation and punishment with health and treatment services, as well as recommending governments experiment with legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organised crime and safeguard the health and security of citizens.(18)

In 2016, an international commission of medical experts found that drug laws caused 'misery, failed to curb drug use, fuelled violent crime and spread epidemics of HIV and hepatitis C through unsafe injecting'. The commission was established by the esteemed Lancet medical journal and John Hopkins University. The report stated that drug laws had 'harmed public health, human rights and development'. It asked the UN to support decriminalisation of minor, non-violent offences and made a number of recommendations, including 'move gradually towards legal, regulated drug markets ... '.(19)

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, acknowledged the damage caused by the war on drugs when it noted, 'Global drug control efforts have had a dramatic unintended consequence: a criminal black market of staggering proportions'.(20) 

After almost 20 years of the UN war on drugs, the United Nations and the World Health Organization have released a joint statement on ending discrimination in health care settings, which includes calling on member states to take 'targeted, coordinated, time-bound, multisectoral actions', including:

Reviewing and repealing punitive laws that have been proven to have negative health outcomes and that counter established public health evidence. These include laws that criminalize or otherwise prohibit gender expression, same sex conduct, adultery and other sexual behaviours between consenting adults; adult consensual sex work; drug use or possession of drugs for personal use; sexual and reproductive health care services, including information; and overly broad criminalization of HIV non-disclosure, exposure or transmission.(21)

There are two main approaches that could be taken: legalisation or decriminalisation. There is no country of recent times that has legalised all drugs, so it is difficult to fully understand the impact that this would have. However, it is anticipated that legalisation would carry the following benefits:
  • reduce black market activity and organised crime involvement
  • enable regulation that can ensure purity of product, for instance, similar to alcohol content labels found on alcohol products
  • enable taxation of drugs which can be channeled into harm reduction strategies, such as health treatments
  • reduction of people incarcerated, so any addictions can be treated as health issues rather than criminal issues
If legalising is a step too far, then drugs should certainly be decriminalised which will realise the following benefits:
  • addresses demand-side, rather than supply-side issues through education, treatment and harm reduction activities
  • keeps people out of the criminal justice system
  • reduction in associated crime
  • reduction in HIV/AIDS that occurs from poor injection habits, by providing education and safe-injecting facilities
  • reduced cost to tax-payers, through reducing policing and incarceration issues
  • reduced burden on welfare systems as users do not have criminal records, providing them with a greater chance of obtaining employment
  • reduced numbers of overdoses through providing safe-injecting rooms, drug purity testing, education and treatment
  • instead of increased recidivism under criminalisation models, decriminalisation increases the access to detox and addiction treatment programs
The war on drugs has stigmatised and demonised users as criminals in order to garner public support and create an 'us and them' mentality. Yet, not all drug users became addicts and those who do have often suffered traumatic experiences(22) which is another reason why drug use should be treated as a health issue. It should include education programs in schools, so that people learn to appreciate it as a health issue and are more willing to seek help if they need it, without stigma or the threat of incarceration.

In the United States, legalisation of marijuana in states such as Colorado, Washington and California, has had a dramatic impact on Mexican drug cartel's profits. Legalisation has led to a burgeoning market for domestically grown cannabis which has produced lower prices and higher quality than produced in Mexico and Jamaica. Legalisation is achieving what the drug war failed to do as the following graph shows.(23)

After decades of policies that have wreaked havoc across the globe with no reduction in drug use and massive increases in organised crime, it is clear that a change in tactic is long overdue. The evidence clearly shows that decriminalisation and harm reduction programs achieve what the war on drugs could only dream of.


1. The Guardian, Christopher Knaus, Prisons at breaking point but Australia is still addicted to incarceration, 29 December 2017, Accessed 30 December 2017.

2. Robinson, R., (1996), Chapter 4 - A Global History of Hemp, The Great Book of Hemp. Park Street Press, Rochester, Vermont.

3. Bennett, C., Osburn, L., Osburn, J., (1995), Chapter 5 - Ancient Hebrews, Green Gold, The Tree of Life - Marijuana in Magic & Religion, Access Unlimited, Frazier Park, CA 93225.

4. Herer, J., (1995 Australian Edition), Chapter 4 - The Last Days of Legal Cannabis, The Emporer Wears No Clothes.

5. ibid, Chapter 2 - Uses of Hemp.

6. ibid. Chapter 12 - Cannabis use in 19th century America.

7. ibid. Chapter 9 - Economics: Energy, Environment and Commerce.

8. ibid. Chapter 8 - Cannabis Hempseed as the Basic World Food.

9. Harper's Magazine, Dan Baum, Legalize It All: How to win the war on drugs, April 2016, Accessed 30 December 2017.

10. Laffiteau, C., 2011. The balloon effect: The failure of supply side strategies in the war on drugs. Academia. edu, 1, pp.1-18.

11. Reuters, Stephanie Nebehay, Swiss drug policy should serve as model: experts, 26 October 2010, Accessed 30 December 2017.

12. Open Society Foundations, Kasia Malinowska, For Safe and Effective Drug Policy, Look to the Dutch, 16 July 2013, Accessed 30 December 2017.

13. The Washington Post, Christopher Ingraham, Why hardly anyone dies from a drug overdose in Portugal, 5 June 2015, Accessed 30 December 2017.

14. Business Insider, Drake Baer, 6 incredible things that happened when Portugal decriminalized all drugs, 26 April 2016, Accessed 30 December 2017.

15. Transform Drug Policy Foundation, The success of Portugal's decriminalisation policy - in seven charts, 14 July 2014, Accessed 30 December 2017.

16. Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Medically supervised injecting centres, 17 February 2017, Accessed 30 December 2017.

17. The Independent, Bethan McKernan, Number of drug addicts in Iran 'doubles' in six years, 26 June 2017, Accessed 30 December 2017.

18. Global Commission on Drug Policy, (June 2011), War on Drugs Accessed 30 December 2017.

19. The Guardian, Sarah Boseley and Jessica Glenza, Medical experts call for global drug decriminalisation, 25 March 2016, Accessed 30 December 2017.

20. The Guardian, Jamie Doward, The UN's war on drugs is a failure. Is it time for a different approach, 3 April 2016, Accessed 30 December 2017.

21. World Health Organization, Joint United Nations statement on ending discrimination in health care settings, 27 June 2017, Accessed 30 December 2017.

22., Katie Horneshaw, Why you should stop judging addicts, 8 March 2016, Accessed 30 December 2017.

23. The Washington Post, Christopher Ingraham, Legal marijuana is finally doing what the drug war couldn't, 3 March 2016, Accessed 30 December 2017.

Embedded movies

Reefer Madness (1936):

Hemp for Victory News Reel (1942):