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The 'gang crisis': backing people into a corner simply won't work

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The headline: "African" robs 7-11.

There it was, dropped neatly onto Twitter by the national broadsheet "for the informed Australian". Three words.

The current news cycle requires no greater context, the headline was the inevitable distillation of the latest frothing "crisis" – any crime that could be linked to an alleged offender "believed to be of African appearance" was grist to the mill.

That evening, pushing a pram through a park in Melbourne's western suburbs to will a restless baby to sleep, I happened upon a man "of African appearance". He was with his beloved, a woman also of African appearance, guiding her through some of the finer points of shooting hoops. We traded pleasantries and the pair made the appropriate gurgles of appreciation for my offspring. Clouding the exchange was a sense I have never experienced with any other neighbour; an apologetic air for their very existence in this public space.

I returned home, tucked in the now-sleeping baby, kissed his elder brother goodnight. All the while thinking that whatever challenges they may face growing up in Melbourne, their skin colour would not be one of them. I sat at the computer to catch up on some work. Instead, I tweeted.

I have reported for a local community newspaper based in Melbourne's western suburbs since 2010. My round includes coverage of courts and crime, and I come across offenders of virtually every race, colour and creed. This........

© The Age