AFRICAN community leaders are calling for better services and legal education in the wake of Victoria Police figures linking youth crime rates and race.
Figures released last week show the rate of offending in the Sudanese community is 7109.1 per 100,000, while for Somalis, it is 6141.8 per 100,000. The figure for the wider community is 1301 per 100,000.
But the overall proportion of crimes committed by Sudanese and Somali residents statewide is 0.92 and 0.35percent, respectively.
Assistant Commissioner Stephen Fontana said police were concerned about an increase in street crime, assaults and robberies involving Africans.
He flagged Cronulla-style riots as a "worst-case scenario".
Braybrook African community leader Abeselom Nega said profiling African youth would further marginalise them. "Young people have told me they feel targeted by police because of their race. It's a double-edged sword. It's important to highlight these figures, but it also creates stereotypes that aren't accurate of all young Africans. A lot of these young people are disadvantaged but ... they deserve respect and they need to be engaged in society through education and employment." Mr Nega urged police to take a proactive approach and work with African youth to teach them about the justice system.
Western suburbs African youth advocate John James said negative media portrayals of African youth were destructive. "To create the mentality that all Sudanese and Somali youth are like that is a dangerous perception. Everybody is different; you can't categorise people by their race."
Mr James, a South Sudanese refugee, has formed Young African Connection, a group of 10 African Australians promoting positive social outlets for young migrants. "A lot of the time police and the government aren't working with these young people every day like we do. They are only seeing the bad and not the good."
The Melbourne University student said he had seen too many of his people succumb to alcohol, drugs and violence. They were also traumatised by flashbacks of a horrific war. He said a major cause of African youth being drawn into the downward spiral of crime and antisocial behaviour was difficulty finding employment.
Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre lawyer Tamar Hopkins was "extremely disappointed" with police compiling race-based crime data that targeted the African population.
"They don't seem to understand how unhelpful it is to link race and crime. Why not make an issue of the link with literacy rates, lack of jobs, leaving school at year 10? Why not link crime to these stats, which are things we can actually do something about?"
- with Eugene Benson