'Bridge building' under way, say Maribyrnong African leaders

AFRICAN leaders in Maribyrnong have welcomed the settlement of a drawn-out racial discrimination case between a group of young African-Australian men in the western suburbs and Victoria Police.

The case stemmed from allegations the young men were regularly stopped by police, mostly in Flemington and North Melbourne, for no legitimate reason.

The men claimed they were subjected to racial discrimination, including assaults, racial taunts, abuse and racial profiling.

The case, recently settled at the Federal Court, covered claims of harassment dating back to 2006.

Analysis of the police Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) database by Melbourne University's Professor Ian Gordon found African men around Flemington and North Melbourne were 2.5 times more likely to have their interaction recorded by police than the rest of the population.

As part of the settlement, Victoria Police agreed to an inquiry to examine its own policies on stop-and-search and person checks and its cross-cultural training system.

Braybrook African community leader Abeselom Nega said it was a win for youth in Maribyrnong and and other western suburbs who had long felt marginalised by police.

"There is no trust between African youth and the police, so this is a very encouraging first step.

"We need an open, honest and transparent discussion between the African community and police."

Mr Nega, who works with African teens through his youth education group iEmpower and has been appointed to the state Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, said many young Africans felt they were targeted because of the colour of their skin.

Speaking to the media after the settlement, Chief Commissioner Ken Lay said he did not accept racial profiling was taking place, but he admitted relations between some police and young African men had been "quite problematic".

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