Violence at Cronulla Beach as 5000 people gather

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Monday, December 12, 2005

"No Lebs" handwritten on t-shirt

Cronulla Beach in Sydney, New South Wales was the scene of racist mob-violence yesterday. In what has been described as disgusting, un-Australian and shameful behaviour, participants in a 5000-strong mob assaulted people suspected of being of Lebanese origin. The angry, alcohol-fuelled crowd also turned on anyone who tried to help the victims, including police, security guards and ambulance officers.

Following an attack on two lifeguards earlier in the week, allegedly by men of Lebanese descent, a protest had been organised via text messages and a small number of usenet postings.

Sutherland Shire Mayor Kevin Schreiber says inflammatory text messages calling for revenge attacks fueled the violence. Mr Schreiber said the heavily-circulated messages ensured troublemakers went to the southern Sydney beach looking for a fight. Police had patrolled the area all weekend after text messages began circulating among the community calling for vigilante responses to unwelcome visitors on the beach.

"The sending out of that text message was foolish and irresponsible and ensured that people from all over Sydney came to Cronulla looking to cause trouble and this was further fueled by alcohol," said Mr Schreiber.

Sydney's popular talk-back radio station 2GB also promoted Sunday's event. Breakfast announcer Alan Jones has been accused of "fanning the flames." Callers who recommended vigilante action were not discouraged to take the law into their own hands. Mr Jones, notorious for inflammatory comments, repeated the text message for Cronulla residents to defend their territory several times.

Man wearing Aussie Flag hat speaks into megaphone

As the crowd marched along the beach and foreshore area, waving Australian flags, the crowd chanted racist slogans, with many wearing clothes bearing racist sentiment.

Middle Eastern men were openly targeted and assaulted. A young Muslim woman wearing a veil was chased into a kiosk on Cronulla beach. Police tried to move her away from the chanting crowd but were unable to reach the security of the command post. While the woman and police officers hid in the kiosk, a crowd surrounded the kiosk and shouted "Kill the Lebs", while others climbed on top of the kiosk.

As police horses and special operations officers formed a line and pushed the crowd away, they were bombarded with beer bottles. After half an hour, an ambulance arrived at the kiosk and people were loaded into it. The ambulance, transporting six injured youths, escorted by police and police horses, was also bombarded with beer bottles. One struck an ambulance officer on the head. His colleague suffered lacerations to the arm.

Arrests

Police observing protestors

A total of 25 people, including two ambulance officers, were injured and about 40 cars were vandalised at Maroubra as the unrest spread to other beachside communities. Police said 16 people had been arrested and charged with 41 offences. Locals said today they were in shock and many refused to be named, too scared of retribution for their comments.

Those charged were from Mortdale, Cronulla, Bondi Junction, Kareela, Granville, Lugarno, Greenacre, Mascot, Northmead, Jannali, Sutherland, and Riverwood. Offences included malicious damage, resist police, hinder police, assault police, resist arrest, possess prohibited drug, offensive manner, threaten violence, affray, possess knife in a public place, and driving in a manner dangerous. All of those charged were men between 17 and 40 years of age.

Government response

A Police strike force had been established to track down those responsible, NSW Premier Morris Iemma said today. Mr Iemma said video and photo evidence would be used to catch the offenders following incidents which he said showed "ugly face of racism in Australia".

He said the Government would examine what extra police powers would be needed to combat further outbreaks of violence. A meeting of community leaders would be convened to discuss the problem.

"Let's be very clear, the police will be unrelenting in their fight against these thugs and hooligans," the Premier said. A series of apparent revenge attacks – including two stabbings – occurred overnight following the unrest at Cronulla.

Prime Minister John Howard, at a separate press conference, condemned the violence. He said attacking anyone on the basis of their race or ethnicity was unacceptable and should be repudiated. He has refused to call Australians "racist". He himself created racism-related controversy when in 1988 he claimed that the rate of Asian immigration into Australia was too high.

Response from Islamic leaders

"We grew here, you flew here" handwritten on persons back

Kuranda Seyit, the director of Forum on Australia's Islamic Relations (FAIR), an Islamic think-tank, was disgusted by the weekends violence. "The Cronulla police must send a loud and clear message to others who are potentially considering vigilante action against fellow Australians," Mr Seyit said. He also condemned the previous violence that was allegedly committed by Lebanese men, but said that this does not justify yesterdays violence. "I realise that the initial behaviour by the thugs who beat the lifeguard was unacceptable but to take it out any anyone who the mob think are not one of them, is not the solution," Mr Seyit said.

He suggested that a number of people in Sutherland Shire were racist, and this contributed to the violence. "Obviously the underlying racism and intolerance in the shire is now bubbling to the surface."

Participation of "Neo-Nazis"

NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione says police believed neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups were among the crowd. "That in fact is something that we're following up," he told the Nine network.

Skinheads wearing boots, braces and neo-Nazi emblems were among the protestors. Three far-right organisations: "Australia First Party", "Patriotic Youth League (PYL) and the Newcastle-based "Blood and Honour" - all handed out pamphlets. PYL describes itself as a "radical nationalist" group with links to the German-based skinhead group Volksfront, British Nationalist Party and the New Zealand National Front.

Australia First's Dr Jim Saleam, who was jailed for 3 1/2 years in 1991 for possessing a firearm and organising a shotgun attack on the home of the African National Congress's Australian representative, said: "I wouldn't condone it, but I wouldn't condemn it," Dr Saleam said his members had recruited up to 120 people for the rally but denied they were involved in violence.

Anti-race hate campaigner Matt Henderson-Hau, who runs the Fightdemback.org website, claims only one skinhead at the rally came from within the Sutherland Shire. "The rest came from the Central Coast, Newcastle and other parts of Sydney," he said. Mr Henderson-Hau said neo-Nazis had manipulated the crowd at Cronulla. "If you remove the Nazis from the equation, you will go a long way to dousing the flames and hopefully some cool heads will emerge on both sides," he said.

White Nationalist website, Stormfront Downunder, yesterday featured messages from people in the US, Britain and Canada supporting the Cronulla attacks.

Reaction from Sydney bloggers

Young males with "Shire Boyz" written on chest, Southern Cross on shoulder, holding Australian flags

Most bloggers were in agreement that anyone committing acts of violence should be arrested and punished, regardless of race, place of residence, or justification for their actions. Some are purely critical, whereas others are pointing to previous acts by Lebanese youths to explain the violence.

"Round ‘em up—all of them, from both sides—charge ‘em, convict ‘em, jail ‘em," Tim Blair said.

"Are we living in Tsarist Russia where peasants with pitchforks chase Jews down the street?" said Jason Soon of catallaxy. He made a distinction between these riots and previous riots, such as Maquarie Fields. "The denizens of Cronulla do not even have the excuse of poverty and deprivation for their actions. The infamy of disgrace will be heavier on them than on the people of Macquarie Fields."

One blogger said that he did not support Sunday’s violence, but argued that it was understandable after what he described as years of violence and intimidation by Lebanese youths.

"This episode is an absolute disgrace. I, however, absolutely refuse to condemn the people who took that action yesterday, especially given the pattern of wilful inaction from the authorities over the last two years. Far from demonstrating intolerance (arguably, quite the opposite has been demonstrated here, given the facts), put quite simply, everybody has a limit," said James Ozark of "A Western Heart".

Another blogger, who goes by the name "AnonymousLefty", issued a challenge to right-wing bloggers and mainstream pundits, asking them to explain how recent events should have been handled. "What precisely should we be doing differently in order to prevent flare-ups like Cronulla? (If Andrew Bolt and Piers Ackerman are going to devote their next columns to Cronulla - and I'd bet you the shiny biro on my desk that they will - perhaps they'd consider, instead of simply attacking 'multiculturalism' as a vague concept, actually suggesting what they'd do differently.)"

Splat Guy criticised the use of the national flag and anthem during the riot. "... the ugliest thing of all was the use of symbols of the unity of Australians - all Australians, not just Anglos - like the flag, national anthem, and sports cries as a sort of racial identifier. Really unsavoury, really unacceptable, really unaustralian."

Historical background: The White Australian Policy

Racism in post-invasion Australia dates back to the White Australia policy, which started as government policy in the 1880s, became a national law with the creation of Australia as a state in 1901, effectively was stopped in 1973 under the prime ministership of Whitlam, and was completed by further reform in immigration law under Fraser in 1978. For more depth, see:

Related Wikinews

Wikinews Australia has in-depth coverage of this issue: 2005 Sydney race riots

Sources

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