Monday, September 7, 2009

A kick to the head - the new modus operandi for Melbourne's young thugs

You may not know this about me, but my day job (well, my main one, I have several) involves presenting workshops to high school kids which promote non-violence and healthy ways of relating to each other. Young men, being what they are, often see themselves as indestructible, and think little of engaging in a fist-fight as a way of settling an issue or proving their manhood. So one of the stories I frequently told to illustrate the potential dangers of brawling was about an incident that occurred in 2002 at the Village Green Hotel in Mulgrave, not far from where I grew up.

A fight had broken out in the car park between a number of men. One of them was Ryan Leigh Johns, a 19-year-old Rowville man who had trained in martial arts and who had already had his share of run-ins with the police for violent assault. Also present, and apparently watching the fight was 18-year-old Aaron Linskens. For whatever reason, Johns aimed a roundhouse kick at Linskens' head, which killed him. At the time, Johns had been on a 12-month good behaviour bond for assault after - guess what? - kicking another man in the head. He was sentenced to 6 years in jail for manslaughter, of which he served 3 and a half years.

This week, Ryan Leigh Johns (pictured) was in the news again, going back inside for another 8 months. His crime this time? Kicking someone in the head. It occurred at Casey's Nightclub in Hawthorn, where Andrew Colbeck was dancing when Johns and his accomplice attacked him, throwing Colbeck to the floor before kicking him in the head. Colbeck was knocked unconscious by the surprise attack, and suffered bruising and abrasions. Johns threatened him a few days later, telling a friend of Colbeck's that he would get "f***ed up" if he went to the police.

You can see footage of the attack here. I've heard friends of Johns defending him saying he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that he was provoked by both men on both occasions. Which just goes to show the mentality of the type of people who move in these sorts of circles. Dancing badly is not a provocation. Regardless of whether Colbeck provoked him or not, the video clearly shows Colbeck minding his own business when Johns and his mate assault him in such a cowardly fashion. Whatever happened to "Care to step outside?" And someone finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time on three occasions, which all end in him kicking someone in the head? Please.

(The other thing that disturbed me in the CCTV footage was the way most of the people on the dancefloor kept on dancing while Colbeck lay unconscious on the floor.)

Johns pleaded guilty to intentionally causing injury and harassing a witness. His accomplice was given a sentence of 6 months. Now, I'm not really a fan of locking people up and throwing away the key, but this troubles me. Intentionally causing injury? Is that all?

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that kicking someone in the head is a lethal attack. Even Johns, who is clearly not a genius, can figure that one out - he knows it better than anyone. So why not charge him with attempted murder? 8 months seems vastly inadequate for a man who clearly cannot be trusted to control his violent impulses. How many chances to you give someone before they have forfeited their right to exist in free society?

Kicks to the head are becoming the new lethal weapon in the arsenal of young thugs in Melbourne. Recently we saw John Caratozzolo sentenced to a minimum of 10 years for the murder of academic Zhongjun Cao, from a kick to the head.

And then of course there was this sickening incident in Sunshine, in which a man is viciously bashed by three Sudanese men, Ahmed Mohamed, Monda Mentel and Maluac Kir:

The above footage is a particular favourite of xenophobes who despise the African presence in Melbourne, and who use it as the poster case of why we should stop multiculturalism or immigration or whatever. Sure, the attack is absolutely cowardly and reprehensible, but the Australian public only see race when nonwhites are the perpetrators. I doubt that the Ryan Johns case has got anyone claiming that white Anglo-Saxons are inherently unsuitable to live in Australian society.

Sentencing for potentially lethal attacks is clearly too low. Last year saw two 20-year-olds sentenced to a minimum of 3 years for stabbing Sudanese refugee Harris Morgan to death with broken bottles - they pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Manslaughter, rather than murder? The fact that these guys were carrying broken bottles around and slashed Morgan's face and throat in an unprovoked attack (Morgan was clearly seen trying to defuse the situation) - is that not intending to kill him? People get more than that for culpable driving, which implies stupidity but not intent to kill.

And now just this weekend, there are more reports of attacks with weapons and kicks to the head.

Australian culture has always contained its share of macho violence, be it on the sporting field, in the pubs, in schools, at home, and elsewhere. But in recent years it has gone down a dark path. The kind of attack that most Australian males consider a "dog act" has become more and more common; 10 onto 1 swarm attacks, head-kicks and stabbings.

Why? I have heard it suggested that this comes out of ethnic gang culture - non-Anglos apparently lacking the same code of honour that Anglos have traditionally held to in this country regarding fair fights. I actually suspect there may be some truth in that, although it certainly doesn't explain the likes of Ryan Johns. I'm more inclined to suspect the dehumanising steady diet of porn, violent video games, music and movies that is all too common for teenagers today, as well as the lack of impulse control that this age of instant gratification is breeding. The increasingly deteriorating state of the family unit doesn't help either.

While ultimately we must look to teach our young people the values of honour and decency that seems to be slipping away, our justice system needs to set a precedent.


  1. It's funny, I'm in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the moment, and while one is at much more risk of being robbed on the street than in Melbourne, or being caught in the crossfire between rival drug-trafficking gangs fighting over turf, one is far more at risk of being bashed simply for reasons of pure aggression in Melbourne, Australia.

    So the fears are different here. I am concerned about being robbed on the street more so than in Melbourne, and of course of being in the wrong place when one group of drug traffickers decides to invade another favela, or the police decide to go in and try and get a drug lord. But I'm simply not afraid at all of being assaulted for no other reason than some idiot wishes to express his testosterone that way.

    Because there's a lot of violence in Rio, I'd assumed that the people were violent. But after experiencing New Year celebrations on Copacabana Beach, I realised this idea couldn't be further from the truth. Tens of thousands of people on the beach -- and yet not the slightest hint of aggression or violence, even with alcohol being consumed (admittedly, Brazilians don't quite drink like Australians do). Naturally, I wasn't present throughout the whole beach, so it's possible there may have been violence somewhere, but in Australia it's inconcievable for me to imagine there being no violence at such an event. There's always an undercurrent of violence, that is, the possibility of violence, in similar Australian contexts where young people are gathered, and especially where alcohol is being consumed. I was similarly astounded at the absence of a climate of violence during the numerous street parties that are held in Rio during Carnival -- many young people around but seemingly no possibility of fights. If you bump into someone, for example, then it is simply an accident and the person you bumped into is likely to apologise before you have a chance to do so yourself, even though you are the one at fault.

    So why the violence in Rio? In Australia there is one recognised government -- the state or federal government. In Rio there are multiple governments -- the state governments, as well as the governments or fiefdoms that exist in the favelas. Since these governments in Rio don't recognise each other's authority, they periodically clash -- the favela governments against each other, and the state government against those of the favelas. Interestingly, there is very little crime in the favelas themselves, as the "authorities" within the favelas do not tolerate such within their fiefdoms.

    So while Australians enjoy the peace of having one universally recognised governing authority, Australians are much more aggressive than Brazilians, traditionally amongst the lower classes, like tradies. This isn't always bad, as it means Aussies won't take crap easily, such as from their governing authorities, which is in contrast to Brazilians, who will passively accept corruption and incompetence from state authorities with barely a bleet. But regarding violence, things have gotten out of hand in Australia over the last few years, especially in Melbourne's CBD. I've noticed that the CBD has gotten just downright scary on a Friday or Saturday night.

    So while I worry about getting mugged in Rio, I get scared of getting bashed in Melbourne.

    (Sorry for the essay!) :)

  2. Anonymous, no need to apologise for the essay that is as insightful as what you have written. With your permission, I'd be interested to include your observations in a post - holla back at me so I'll know who to credit it to.

  3. No problems, Eurasion -- be my guest. If you have to acknowledge me, call me "Peter". I'd prefer to remain anonymous at this stage, so "Peter" will do. ;)

    Another interesting thing I've noticed is that social decency still exists here. The universal conviviality and politeness with which the people interact here is such that I've given up taking up a seat in the metro over here, as I know in short order I'll be expected to give it up to anyone over 60. Now, can anyone imagine the "youf" of today in Australia, with that messed-up-hair look they all have now, doing the same? They may ... but it's no guarantee.

    This retention of decency here amongst all ages is all the more extraordinary given that the consumption of such drugs as marijuana is so normal and widespread among Rio's Generation X and Y as to be unremarkable. The main drug of choice in Australia is alcohol by a country mile, but here marijuana seems to be universally popular amongst my age group (Gen X) and younger. So it's strange to find routine marijuana smokers automatically giving up their seat for an elderly passenger without a second thought -- and just over 60 isn't that old, so it's not like it's because the elderly person is so frail as to be about to collapse.

  4. I definitely agree with you. I remember deciding street fighting was not for me when I was 13 and a mate had gotten into a fight where he kneed another guy in the head. I'd just wrestled and slapped until then and decided that if big person fights involved knees to the head, I didn't want to be involved. But even then, it was still expected that a fight should be relatively fair.

    The level of headkicking bastardy that goes on nowadays is just beggards belief. Has anyone asked these guys what goes through their heads? Maybe mobile phones are partly to blame. They can mobilise a group of attackers very quickly, so you need to get your group together before the other bloke does. Maybe the culprit is video games, movies and TV, which give the impression that the human body can take no end of punishment and still be OK (whereas, in reality, just one punch/kick can kill). Maybe its televised war and suicide bombings, which desensitize people from suffering. Maybe its Western society's obsession with efficiency and competition- if violence is to be engaged in, why be constrained by notions of proportional force, fairness and honour? Hurt or be hurt. Maybe there is no context in which to teach young men concepts of morality, compassion and honour, without being laughted at. No more church, football clubs, neighbourhoods etc. The impression you get from a nightclub nowadays is an extreme polarisation of gender- uber masculine men, showing their muscles and money and women showing their flesh. The insecurity on both sides is palpable...