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Racist hate crimes targeting Sydney's Indigenous homeless

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Racist hate groups have been targeting the Indigenous homeless community in Sydney (Image by Dan Jensen)

Neo-Nazis are stalking Sydney’s Central Station at night and violently attacking Black Australians sleeping rough.

On Wednesday 24 March, Michael*, an Indigenous man, was asleep on Eddy Avenue outside of Central Station when he was shaken awake. A friend urgently warned him that known intruders – “Black haters” wearing jackets adorned with swastikas – were on the way. Michael was not fast enough and, less than a kilometre from Surry Hills Police Station, was violently beaten.

Michael was not the only casualty that night. And that night was not the first that Sydney’s homeless were awoken to the reality of White supremacy while the rest of Australia’s eyes remained firmly shut.

Michael said:

“They don’t see what goes on out here. We see it all. We see everything on the streets.”

This lack of awareness appears to extend to the local police force. When police were notified of the crime, the attending officer stated it was the first incident of its kind he was aware of, specifically regarding the racial nature. Despite their proximity and the ongoing nature of the attacks, this is not entirely surprising. 

The Australian Human Rights Commission describes violence against the homeless population as ‘often hidden, under-recorded, and under-reported’, while very real cultural divisions and mistrust of the police in segments of the Indigenous community would make confiding in police officers at times of high vulnerability an almost impossible ask. For example, some of the people in Michael’s community would remember the '60s and '70s as a time in which Aboriginal Australians were often arrested without cause, or the early '80s for the violent clashes between police and Aboriginal people on the streets of Redfern.

Surry Hills police noted that the Eddy Avenue tunnel in particular is a known location for violence to the extent that it has been classified a HVP (High Visibility Policing) hotspot. This means that there currently are a greater number of patrols in this vicinity than other areas of the city — though no suggestion was given as to how this helps victims who have already been assaulted in the midst of such a “highly visible” area. When the attack on Michael was reported, police confirmed that an official note would be registered regarding a request for further patrols in this vicinity. 

Regardless, Michael strongly believes that unless things change drastically the perpetrator will return:

“He comes late, late at night when none of them [homeless outreach services] are around. I told them, if they don’t get more of us into the shelters somebody’s going to get killed.”

Michael may not know the assailants’ identities, but they would certainly recognise each other. He has previously seen them in the vicinity during both day and night, the latter occasion in Belmore Park doing what Michael described as “staring down” Aboriginal people.

Michael said:

“They’re big blokes. Ex-army looking. With arm tatts.”

Michael also believes he is known to the assailants and may have been specifically targeted because he is influential in the local Indigenous community for his street art.

Recent monitoring of the rise of neo-Nazism in Australia has largely focused on activities in Victoria, specifically the January 2021 gathering in the Grampians where a group of over 20 men were seen marching, singing and chanting white power slogans. But social change is rarely so covert and the absence of public sieg heiling does not disprove the spread of underground hate. After all, could it not be that subtler signs, such as the appearance of Nazi graffiti and propaganda sighted in Bondi Junction (a suburb with a large Jewish population), may represent just the tip of Sydney’s iceberg of a movement that thrives in the shadows?

Australia’s official statistics related to racist incidences are unfortunately even less clear regarding the scope of the problem. While the numbers of racial complaints made to the Australian Human Rights Commission show an apparent spike since early 2020, this is interpreted by many to be a form of COVID-19 prejudice and largely targeted toward Sydney’s Asian population, thus not reflecting the type of racism experienced by Michael and his neighbours. 

However, these official figures are fraught with inaccuracies regarding racial crimes against the homeless population. If a vulnerable person is unwilling or unable to report an assault to their local police station, consider how likely they are to make an official written complaint of racial hatred or discrimination to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Compound and complicate this dilemma with the fact that certain racial groups – primarily Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia – are disproportionately affected by insecure housing and thus disproportionately less likely to report crimes, including racially motivated crimes. This would presumably artificially reduce the number of racial hate crimes recorded in the sub-group of homeless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

To add further complexity, consider that those affected by insecure housing are vastly more likely to be victims of violent crime than any other group in society, yet are simultaneously the social group most likely to have such crimes drastically under-recorded. In a final twist, homeless people, in general, are stereotyped by the public and even policymakers as perpetrators of crime.   

That this intersectionality between race and class can create such a blind spot that White supremacists are carrying out covert hate crimes with impunity in the middle of Sydney’s CBD shows the staggering hypocrisy and willful ignorance with which Australia deems itself a multicultural success story.   

One week on from the assault, Michael is waiting anxiously to hear back about an application for housing. There have been no further attacks, but last night, the assailants were seen sitting in a parked car watching Michael and his friends. Ominously, this pattern of “casing the joint” took place prior to the last attack.

When asked if he was concerned that talking about this group could lead to greater risks to his safety, Michael didn’t discount the possibility but said it was important he speak up.

“I want people to know,” he said.

“I want it to stop. They’re crazy, and they hate the poor, too. Young, old, they don’t care.

 

People don’t know. And it’s going to take someone dying for them to do something about it.”

*Name has been changed.

Joanna Psaros has a background in law and international affairs. She writes on women's issues, culture, and politics at www.girlslockerroomtalk.com and is passionate about her involvement with non-profit Australian Multi-Cultural Communities United.  

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