Friday, September 18, 2009

Sydney's Lebanese Muslim problem

The Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad raided three houses in Auburn last week, looking for people suspected of being involved in the shooting of a 23-year-old man. They allegedly found a handgun and ammunition, two stun guns, cannabis and a large sum of cash. But within 10 minutes of their arrival, 150 local youths gathered to intimidate the police, drawn by text message and, according to the Opposition Police spokesman, Mike Gallacher, by Facebook messages describing police as ''Kefeirs'', a slang Arabic term for non-Muslim unbelievers. ''Kefeirs raiding brother's house, everyone get down hier [sic]!!''

The mob pelted officers with bottles and abuse, while inside one of the houses a policeman was smashed in the face. He was taken by ambulance to Concord Hospital to stitch up his forehead. The new Public Order and Riot Squad, formed after the Cronulla and Macquarie Fields riots, was called in, along with the Dog Squad and PolAir helicopter. This circus was all par for the course for police trying to perform routine law enforcement duties in south-western suburbs such as Auburn and Granville, where whole streets have become no-go zones.

Just three people were arrested that night - two men and a woman - and the alleged police assailant was released on bail the next day, after claiming he was defending his mother.

Then the complaints came thick and heavy from people outraged "culturally insensitive" police would dare execute a search warrant during Ramadan, a holy month of the Islamic calendar, when Muslims fast until sunset. Do they think there should be one law for Ramadan observers and another for ''kefeirs''?

The Auburn raid, at 6pm last Tuesday, when Muslims were sitting down to break their fast, was planned simply to ensure "persons of interest" would actually be home. ''Race, religion, anything - that doesn't come into consideration in criminal investigations,'' Chief Superintendent Ken McKay, told reporters the next day. ''A lot of people like to use excuses for their behaviour. There's a way to solve that - don't commit crime … ''This is NSW. We have laws in this state we must all abide by, and these people have to abide by the same laws.''

Hooray for Ken McKay. That statement was a long time coming. It is a sign the culture of impotence that has infected the NSW Police Force in the troubled decade and a half since the Wood Royal Commission may be on the retreat. The Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, is a quiet diplomat, with little independence from his political masters. But there are indications he is empowering frontline police to do their jobs, going after real crooks rather than only easy targets of jaywalkers or law-abiding citizens bending traffic rules.

The riot squad is one example. The high jinks at a recent police dinner attended by the Premier is another. A home video spoofing the overly bureaucratic softly-softly tactics of policing today was shown. Based on Life on Mars, it featured a 1970s detective time-travelling to 2009 and flabbergasted by his colleagues' inability to fight crime. Just the fact police feel free to openly mock the state of law enforcement shows change is afoot.

The Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad is another example. It is difficult work, and while no one dares mention it in polite company, crime families from Middle Eastern Muslim communities, especially when linked up with bikie gangs, are the biggest law enforcement headache in the state.

So frightened are authorities of alienating the Muslim community, in case they supposedly become terrorists, the go-softly approach has been mandated for years. The Liberal MP John Ajaka wants the squad abolished because he says its name vilifies ethnic communities. But the fact is many other squads within the State Crime Command, from Robbery and Serious Crime to Gangs, are finding more than half their work involves criminals of Middle Eastern origin.

However, as one frontline police officer working at a south-western Sydney police station said yesterday, the criminals he arrests are not representative of the Muslim community, and are a menace to law-abiding, Allah-fearing Muslims in their neighbourhoods. "These people don't go to mosque. They are not religious. They are just using the excuse that they are being targeted because of their religion." They use cultural sensitivities as a weapon to intimidate police.

He describes the difficulty of executing a warrant on a Muslim house: ''We do raids on them and you can't have mums running off to get scarves on their heads because they could be getting weapons. Everything we do is for operational safety … You're in a hostile environment. You don't know if there's a knife here or a gun there. We have to secure everyone in the house and it is dangerous to allow people to go into bedrooms unaccompanied … The mothers don't want their sons dragged away so [they] provoke the police … and if you go near them they say it's assault [and the men] use that as justification to come in over the top.''

For too long he says there has been "a genuine feeling in south-west Sydney that the cops are soft. [The criminals] try to intimidate a police officer to the point where they back down". The Auburn riots were different. "The police just didn't put up with the intimidation. We're not here to make friends.''

Of course, a goal for many years in the NSW Police Force has been to reduce the number of complaints, as some sort of anti-corruption indicator. This has meant any criminal with enough wit can hobble arresting officers for years with spurious complaints and even civil action. It remains to be seen whether front-line police will end up ruing the day they decided to take on the thugs of Auburn.


Another pack attack by Lebanese Muslims

TWO teenagers have been stabbed outside a pub in Sydney's south. Police say the two, aged 17 and 18, were set upon by six males of Middle Eastern appearance outside a hotel on Forest Road, Hurstville, about 7.15pm yesterday. They had been inside the hotel.

During the altercation the 18-year-old man was stabbed in the left side of his chest and suffered a punctured lung, while the 17-year-old sustained a stab wound to his ribcage. The pair were taken to St George Hospital, where they are in a stable condition.

The men who attacked them were last seen running in a westerly direction on Forest Road. The attacker who produced the knife is described as being about 18 years old, of Mediterranean/Middle Eastern appearance, and about 180cm tall.


Panicky NSW dickless Tracy gets off scot-free

Fuller account of the matter here and here.

POLICE did nothing wrong when they shot a woman who was running at them with a dinner fork last year, the NSW Police Commissioner said, despite both the woman and her alleged assailant saying police did not need to fire.

Nine months after Susie Banderas was shot twice in the chest at her Parramatta flat complex, the results of an internal investigation into her shooting have been released and the female constable who shot her has been cleared of any wrongdoing. Ms Banderas was shot in the early hours of December 21 after police went to the Iron Street flats following several emergency calls.

When they arrived they found Ms Banderas struggling with another resident, Sonni Michael Angelo. They were told to lie on the ground, and capsicum spray was used, but Mr Angelo, a professional fighter, ran into a flat and Ms Banderas ran towards police with a fork allegedly in her hand. She was then shot twice and fell to the ground.

''They're judgment calls, they're reflex calls. Our police officers responded and responded well,'' Commissioner Andrew Scipione said yesterday.

After the shooting Ms Banderas told The Sun-Herald the officer shot her at point blank range when she ran towards police for help. Mr Angelo also said there was no need to shoot her.


A gracious act

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd has announced the appointment of former Labor and Liberal Party leaders to prestigious diplomatic posts in the US and Europe.

In a press conference held in Canberra a short time ago, Mr Rudd confirmed former Labor leader Kim Beazely's appointment as Australia's next ambassador to the United States.

And in a surprise move, he also announced former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson would take over as Australia's ambassador to the European Union, and its representative to NATO and the World Health Organisation.

Both Mr Beazley and Dr Nelson had served as defence ministers, both had led their parties and both had earned the trust and respect of the Australian people, Mr Rudd said, defending their appointment over professional diplomats.

There was no-one better qualified in Australia to be the US ambassador than Mr Beazley, Mr Rudd said. And the prime minister said Dr Nelson's experience as defence minister was important in the European role, especially the relationship with NATO.


New Australian citizenship quiz tests facts, not figures

New citizens will need to know about "mateship" and what it means to get a "fair go", but Don Bradman and billiards champion Walter Lindrum have been left out of the nation's revamped citizenship test. Unveiling details of the new test yesterday, Immigration Minister Chris Evans said it was more important for migrants to know about their rights and responsibilities than "trivial Australiana" such as facts about the late Sir Don. "I want people applying to Australian citizenship to know things such as under Australia's domestic law, domestic violence is illegal, that you're not entitled to hit women in Australia," Senator Evans said. "That seems to me to be much more relevant than understanding whether Don, whether Walter Lindrum, was good at billiards."

But before they pledge their oath of allegiance, prospective citizens will be able to learn about the Don, Dick Smith, Eddie Mabo and even lesser-known figures such as gynaecologist Catherine Hamlin in a "non-testable" section of the new citizenship book. The book explains such helpful phrases as "mateship" -- "When my car broke down, the other drivers helped to push it in the spirit of mateship" -- and "try your luck" -- "Every year, I try my luck and bet $10 on a horse in the Melbourne Cup" -- but skips prime ministerial favourites such as "fair shake of the sauce bottle".

Under changes that passed through parliament yesterday -- the 60th anniversary of Australian citizenship -- people with physical or mental disabilities will not have to sit the test, while others who need help will be able to take a citizenship course.

The new laws will also mean children have to become permanent residents before becoming eligible for citizenship. And the rules have been relaxed to make it easier for elite athletes, pilots and cruise ship crews -- who spend a lot of time outside the country -- to become citizens.

The new citizenship test, to be rolled out from October 19, will contain 20 multiple-choice questions. The pass mark will rise from 60 per cent to 75 per cent. The test is also designed to check whether immigrants have a basic knowledge of English.

To mark the 60th anniversary of Australian citizenship, Senator Evans, who is from Wales, told a rowdy Senate in response to a question from Labor senator Doug Cameron: "It's a great day for Australian democracy and citizenship when a Scotsman can ask a Welshman a question, while being interjected upon by people from Germany, Belgium and New Zealand. It says something about the country."

The government has not released the new test, but has published practice questions, which test facts such as the meaning of Anzac Day, the colours of the Aboriginal flag and the role of the Governor-General.


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