.... Malcolm Kerr, a Liberal MP whose seat is Cronulla, says he's had a stream of constituents come into his office complaining of inaction by the police on revenge attacks despite what they said was clear evidence.
Some locals may have believed [police chief] Moroney when he said the lack of video evidence was the problem. "When the video turned up with that guy being attacked, it blew that out of the water," Kerr says. And, says Kerr, the fact that Iemma announced a huge increase in officers for Enoggera shows he did not take the issue seriously enough at the outset. "If the Government now says the task needs much greater resources, they should have put them in at the start five weeks earlier, when the clues were still hot," Kerr says.
Iemma and Moroney still say the police have not been soft on Middle Eastern crime. But the evidence suggests otherwise. A notorious police document outlines how, the night after the Sunday riots, "numerous vehicles were sighted congregated in the vicinity of Punchbowl Park [in Sydney's inner southwest]". "These vehicles and the crowd that had been gathered were suspected to be Middle Eastern criminals who have been involved in malicious damage and civil disobedience offences throughout the Sutherland Shire and St George areas," the document says. "A direction was given to police around midnight not to enter the area and antagonise these persons."
According to former police officers, it's not unusual. The police don't take on Lebanese gangs. But Debnam has not provided any evidence to back up his assertion that the Government specifically ordered the police to go soft on Middle Eastern crime. He has also failed to put up any proof that Middle Eastern political power brokers in the ALP are exerting influence on the Government to do so. Debnam's critics say his allegation is like saying that because his well-heeled electorate of Vaucluse, in Sydney's eastern suburbs, is largely Anglo-Saxon, he would be under pressure to go soft on Anglo-Saxon crime. Debnam agrees that the overwhelming majority of the Middle Eastern community has no interest in keeping the gangs out of jail. "Whenever I go out to those electorates and door-knock, all they say, whether they come from a Middle Eastern background or any other, is that they want the Government to crack down on crime," he says.
However, some former police officers, such as former police assistant commissioner and ministerial adviser Geoff Schuberg, say that, leaving the wilder elements of Debnam's conspiracy theory aside, there are some real reasons why the police are soft on Middle Eastern crime. One is politicisation of the police force in which police commissioners are less independent from ministers, and police are nervous right down the line of doing something that could be seen as politically incorrect or lead to a complaint of racial targeting. Schuberg says Moroney could stand up more to the gangs and the Government. "As a police commissioner you need to be a bit of a mongrel and give firm direction," he says. "I don't see that in Ken."
A second factor put forward by Schuberg, and well-known former detective Tim Priest, is that the skills inculcated in police officers have shifted from an emphasis on old-fashioned street policing to a more cerebral curriculum stressing socially conscious policing. "The old school of police of the past has been replaced with academics, who haven't the stomach," Priest says.
The third factor, Schuberg and Priest say, is plain fear of Lebanese gangs that, they say, have absolutely no respect for police, threaten to harm their families and have weapons they are quite prepared to use.
Some community leaders say the situation has highlighted the deep suspicion of governments and authority by many people of Middle Eastern background whose families have come from countries where governments are either corrupt or unreliable. "There is an old Arabic saying, 'Me and my brother against my cousin, me and my cousin against the world'," says one Lebanese leader. Randa Kattan, the executive director of the Arab Council Australia, believes there was possibly some underlying frustration that spilt over during the revenge attacks. "There is a lot of frustration in the community," she says. "They have had a lot to deal with since the rape stories [referring to infamous court cases]. It is a daily reality grappling with public opinion about Middle Eastern people and it won't go away very soon." ....
Tensions between Lebanese and whites at Cronulla are not new. Jane Tozen tells of an incident she witnessed well before the riots. It was December 7, and the mercury hit 38C at around 4.15pm, when she had just finished her regular routine in the gym of the North Cronulla surf lifesaving club. She and a couple of mates were looking out the window at a TV crew filming on the beach. But another group caught their eye. "There was a group of Lebanese hanging around the shower area," Tozen tells Inquirer. "They were mouthing off at one of the locals. Then they attacked him. He fell to the ground. He was covering his head. They were like flies, they were around him and kicking the shit out of him. A second local went in to help him and he was beaten, too. Then a lot of locals came round and there was a bit of a stand-off."
Lifesavers in the club called the police. The first car took 15 minutes to arrive and when it did the lone officer chased one of the Lebanese men. "I'm told he ran like hell and jumped over a fence," the new Task Force Enoggera commander Ken McKay tells Inquirer. "It was quite a chase. We got the PolAir helicopter in but he got away."
According to Tozen, the Lebanese man snatched a bag and ran, deliberately to allow the others to leave the scene uninterviewed. It was another 45 minutes, according to Tozen, before the police arrived in force. The two injured local men, streaming blood, had been treated at the surf club and had left. By that time some of the Lebanese had drifted back. According to Tozen, she and other witnesses pointed out the perpetrators to police. "They didn't arrest any of them," Tozen says.
"We told them the numberplates, which had these really gross words like Hot & Wet. The police did nothing, they just let them walk away. "It should all have been on high-quality video, because the television crew had turned its attention to the attack and filmed it. Everyone saw them do it. They told the police." But according to Tozen, the police did not act. She was wondering whether to go to the media, but her surf-lifesaving club banned members from speaking to journalists. (Tozen is not her real name - her fear is not of the Lebanese, but in being expelled from the club.)
This week, Tozen decided she'd had enough. She went to her local state MP, Kerr. He arranged for her to see McKay, whose task force is charged with rounding up "revenge attackers", the Middle Eastern men who attacked whites and their property after the race riots on December 11. McKay is trying to work out what happened. "There were a whole lot of incidents that day," he says. "It's a matter of establishing which event is related to which other one." McKay says he's trying to find the TV video but there is confusion about which channel the crew came from. One victim has been interviewed and a statement taken, McKay says. Another has been interviewed but does not want to pursue the attack. But no suspects have been interviewed let alone arrested.
So far, the Lebanese attackers have got away with it. Tozen is still as mad as hell. To her, it's just the latest of events that have been going on for years, in which Lebanese gangs have invaded her turf with impunity, bad-mouthing the locals, harassing and denigrating the women, sometimes starting fights.
But, as with a lot of the incidents McKay is trying to dissect, it's not always clean-cut. Inquirer this week tracked down one of the victims of the attack. Rather than present himself as an innocent bystander, the Cronulla local took pride in saying he started the whole thing. "That was the hottest Wednesday," says the victim, who did not give his name. "The lifesavers were attacked on the Sunday. I heard all the conflicting reports in the newspapers and radio. So I came down to the surf club and asked the lifesavers what happened.
"I was on my third longneck [beer] at that point, though I'm not trying to stress that now. I walked off and saw four Lebanese sitting on the park bench, they were being interviewed by a TV camera. As I walked past them I said 'f---ing Lebs' real loud, trying to get my voice on camera. I saw one of them calling his mates towards them. I got just past the lifesaving tower, next thing I know they all came past me and it was on. They were all over me. I reckon there was more like 15 than 20 of them. My mate was with me. He got kicked all the way from the point over to where the lifesaving club is. I got all the blokes off me, turned away and ran across the park. He was on the ground trying to get up and they were hitting and kicking him."
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