With due acknowledgement to the scriptwriters of the movie, “Cool Hand Luke” I have borrowed the phrase above to describe an incident that occurred in Sydney yesterday (26th October 2013). In the incident four men and a woman were walking home from the synagogue in Bondi shortly after midnight when a group of about eight young men began yelling anti-Semitic insults at them. The confrontation soon developed into a physical clash and five victims aged between 27 and 66 were injured in the clash. Police arrested two 17 year olds and a 23 year old. They were charged. Others involved in the incident made their getaway and police were still attempting to track them down for questioning and charging last night.
As the ABC website reported it:
“Sergeant David Rose says all five victims, aged between 27 and 66, were injured during the attack.
“Some have suffered concussion – there’s also a fractured cheekbone, a possible broken nose, lacerations and bruising,” he said.
“All those injured people were treated by ambulance paramedics and then conveyed to St Vincent’s Hospital.”
Hospital spokesman David Faktor says the victims told him it was an unprovoked attack and that they were targeted because they were Jewish”.
Mr Faktor says the families of the victims are very upset and cannot understand why people would want to hurt them.
“You certainly don’t come to Bondi and expect that,” he said.
“Maybe in Germany in the 1930s and Russia in the 1970s but certainly in Sydney, Australia, Bondi you just don’t expect an unprovoked attack.”
There are a number of disturbing issues to arise out of this matter. First and foremost, as my Jewish brothers and sisters will tell you, the anti-Semitism that still exists in many corners of our society here in Australia is frightening. For a group that has endured the horrors of the Holocaust, the subsequent purges and the atrocities of the concentration camps for this to continue into the current era is completely unacceptable and must be the cause of great fear and angst for the whole community. It was around ten years ago that we had similar incidents occurring here in WA. For a survivor of the atrocities of the concentration camps to have to open up the synagogue one Saturday morning to see the walls daubed with comments such as “six million more and fries with that” can only be said to have been incredibly frightening and worrying. It would have evoked memories that he would have been working hard to consign to the historical waste bin. And yet he was not allowed to by these perpetrators.
The second issue that arose from these events in Sydney was that the perpetrators were to be charged by the police for the offences of affray and breach of bail. In WA, the peak Ethnic Communities body of which I was then the President argued vehemently over many years and succeeded in having amendments undertaken to the Criminal Code in WA to ensure that incidents of this nature would be pursued by Police and the perpetrators would be charged under sections 77 to 78 of the code. The relevant parts of those provisions state the following:
77. Conduct intended to incite racial animosity or racist harassment
Any person who engages in any conduct, otherwise than in private, by which the person intends to create, promote or increase animosity towards, or harassment of, a racial group, or a person as a member of a racial group, is guilty of a crime and is liable to imprisonment for 14 years.
78. Conduct likely to incite racial animosity or racist harassment
Any person, who engages in any conduct, otherwise than in private, that is likely to create, promote or increase animosity towards, or harassment of, a racial group, or a person as a member of a racial group, is guilty of a crime and is liable to imprisonment for 5 years.
Summary conviction penalty: Imprisonment for 2 years or a fine of $24 000.
As is clearly evident from the above if the NSW Criminal provisions contained similar provisions, the perpetrators would have been and should have been charged with something far more serious than affray and breach of bail offences.
There is little question that the WA criminal code provisions are the toughest in the land. What we need to see are consistent laws in all the States so that the same high level of offence is treated in the same fashion.
Having said that the WA provisions are the toughest in the land it must be said that the toughest provisions amount to nothing if we have a Police force that is either ignorant of those provisions or seems reluctant to pursue any action through the courts. I am on record as questioning the will of the WA Police in pursuing these matters. I am also hopeful that in Chris Dawson we will see an assistant Commissioner who will pursue these with the vigour that they deserve.
For now it is over to WA Police to implement policies and procedures that will ensure that their staff out on the street are aware of the provisions and that they pursue these cases with some greater zeal.