Policing the crisis? African youth, crime, media and policing in Melbourne

A/Prof. Leanne Weber1, Dr Kathryn Benier1, Dr Jarrett Blaustein1, Dr Diana Johns2, Dr  Sara Maher1, A/Prof Rebecca Wickes1
1Monash University, Clayton, Australia, 2University of Melbourne, Carlton, Australia

Four decades ago legendary British cultural theorist Stuart Hall and colleagues published their landmark text Policing the Crisis. Through a series of theoretically eclectic analyses they charted the creation of a racialised and politicised media discourse about ‘mugging’ that legitimated a wave of intensive policing directed against a new generation of Black British citizens. At the time of writing, the upcoming Victorian state election promises to reignite similarly racialised debates about ‘African gangs’ and emotionally charged crimes such as ‘home invasions’ that resonate with this classic analysis.

In this session we draw inspiration from this landmark inquiry, while not attempting to recreate it. The panel, consisting of Monash Criminology and Melbourne University academics, their community research partners and members of affected communities, will give a series of very short presentations highlighting the media construction of a ‘crisis’ of African youth crime in Melbourne and the impacts of this racialised and politicised discourse on criminal justice policies, policing practice and community dynamics. Our intention is not to theorise or present a grand narrative, but rather to open for critical discussion a series of urgent and practical concerns that threaten community peace and cohesion.

The session will centre around three ‘collaborative conversations’, each of which will begin with brief comments from researchers and members of affected communities designed to spark a critical and participatory discussion. The conversation topics are (1) crime and the media (2) crime and community perceptions (3) crime and policing, all with a focus on ‘African’ communities in Melbourne.


Kathryn Benier is a Lecturer in Criminology in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University. Her research focus is urban criminology and the neighbourhood ecology of crime. In particular, Kathryn’s work focuses on hate crime and the impact of immigration and ethnic diversity on social relationships, cohesion and sense of belonging over time. She also has a research interest in family and domestic violence, with a strong focus on the geospatial distribution of offences and the consequences of victimisation. Kathryn has an interest in quantitative methodology, and extending new statistical techniques in other fields into criminological research.

Jarrett Blaustein is a lecturer in Criminology in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University and the Major Convener for Criminology. His research currently focuses on four areas: Crime, development and security in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; Global mobility of crime control policies; Secondary harm mitigation in the context of international drug law enforcement; Examining the ‘life-cycle’ of youth-related public disorder in Victoria, Australia. Jarrett’s sole-authored book titled Speaking Truths to Power: Policy Ethnography and Police Reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina was published in 2015 by Oxford University Press.

Diana Johns joined the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne as lecturer in criminology in 2016. Her book, Being and Becoming an Ex-Prisoner, based on her PhD research, was published in 2017 by Routledge as part of the International Series on Desistance and Rehabilitation.  Her (mainly qualitative) research interests range from restorative and therapeutic approaches to justice to vulnerable people’s experience of criminal justice and legal processes. Diana’s current research is focused on South Sudanese young people’s experience of demonising media narratives since Moomba 2016.

Sara Maher is an adjunct Research Fellow at Monash Migration and Inclusion Centre (MMIC). Her research focuses on the post-settlement lives of African migrant women, addressing transnationalism and belonging in Australia. She is a Churchill Fellow, leads the South Sudan Diaspora Impacts project, (Cambridge, Juba & Monash Universities), addressing the diaspora relationship between Melbourne and Juba and has recently worked on the Victoria Police African Taskforce Implementation Plan. Her work is grounded in a previous career in the refugee settlement sector in Melbourne.

Leanne Weber is Associate Professor of Criminology, co-Director of the Border Crossing Observatory and Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University. She researches border control and migration policing using criminological and human rights frameworks. Her books include The Routledge International Handbook on Criminology and Human Rights, 2017 (with Elaine Fishwick and Marinella Marmo), Policing Non-Citizens, 2013 (Routledge), Stop and Search: Police Power in Global Context, 2013 (Routledge, with Ben Bowling) and Globalization and Borders: Death at the Global Frontier, 2011 (Palgrave, with Sharon Pickering).

Rebecca Wickes is an Associate Professor at the School of Social Sciences at Monash University where she is the Director of the Monash Migration and Inclusion Centre and the convener of the criminology program. She is also the Chief Investigator of the Australian Community Capacity Study (ACCS), a multi-million, multi-site, longitudinal study of 298 urban neighbourhoods in Victoria and Queensland. Her research focuses on the spatial concentration of social problems with a particular focus on how physical and demographic changes in urban communities influence social cohesion, the informal regulation of crime, crime and victimisation.

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