Listening to Daniel Andrews talk about wanting to "smash" marauding, evil gangs, you could be forgiven for wondering if our normally circumspect Premier hadn't been replaced by a tough-talking stunt double.
There would be no excuses, no "poor me" arguments, he declared. The thugs who rioted in Melbourne on Saturday night would feel the full force of the law, regardless of their background or circumstances.
Daniel Andrews: We will 'smash these gangs'
Watch the Premier's angry response to the gang violence that hit Moomba festivities on Saturday night.
"There are a lot of people in Victoria who face challenges in their lives, there are a lot of people in Victoria who have some history of disadvantage, who have got troubles in their lives, but they don't behave like those on Saturday night."
Andrews may have been a little slow out of the blocks with his response, but he was right to come out hard – on a number of levels. Gang-related violence is of course nothing new. Groups of fired-up young men have been belting each other up for no good reason since time began.
But Saturday night's rampage seemed to hit a raw nerve for Melbourne, challenging what our city is supposed to represent. This time it was thrust in our faces, right in the heart of the city, right in the middle of a festival that is supposed to celebrate our quirkiness and sense of community.
As such, it laid bare some uncomfortable truths. First, the idea that Melbourne is the most liveable city in the world only applies to some parts in and around the CBD. Elsewhere, we still have a long way to go, with some local communities plagued by disadvantage, unemployment, violence and poor access to services.
In Dandenong and Broadmeadows the unemployment rate at the end of 2015 was 22 per cent. In Campbellfield it was 19.7 per cent and in Meadow Heights it was 18.4 per cent. For particular age and ethnic groups, the rates in these parts are almost certainly much higher.
It took an organised melee in the city pre-promoted on social media to bring this reality under our noses. In places like Dandenong, Melbourne is something quite different.
A second uncomfortable truth is that these problems are acute within particularly ethnic groups. Yet we struggle to even have a sensible conversation about this. The weekend violence was perpetrated by a gang known as Apex, which is predominantly made up of people from Sudanese and Pacific Islander backgrounds, with members from caucasian, Afghan and Indian descent also in the mix.
You can argue the toss about the root causes. Unemployment, low levels of education, trauma experienced in their countries of origin, drugs and alcohol or just old fashioned boredom could all be part of the explanation. As Southern Metro Assistant Police Commissioner Bob Hill put it: "They're disengaged with their family, their community; they're disengaged with their family values, their community values and their faith."
What is more difficult is offering up a solution. A common criticism has been that police have been reluctant to target particular groups through fear of being labelled racists. Victoria Police now follow a system where receipts are issued to people who are stopped for questioning in particular areas. This followed a civil action settled three years ago for $3 million in which African youths from Flemington were found to have been unfairly targeted and harassed by police.
Accusations of racial targeting flared again last month with the leak of a federal cabinet document warning Australia's "extremism landscape" had been significantly influenced by the refugee intake.The document singles out Lebanese people who migrated to Australia under the humanitarian program over the 15 years to 1990, stating that most had come from "the poorer and uneducated Lebanese Muslim population". That too prompted outrage, with claims it was vilifying the Muslim community and undermining efforts to maintain social cohesion.
At this point, I think we need a distinction between racial profiling (targeting individuals solely on the basis of race, religion or appearance) and what you might call targeted policing, where particular groups and behaviour are identified as high risk. As the Australian Strategic Policy Institute's John Coyne and Anthony Bergin argued last month, it needs to be applied on the basis of logic, not fear.
There also needs to be a clear division between politicians and police. In the case of politicians, singling out races or religions has the potential to inflame tensions, adding to the risks. When it is done by police and security agencies in a low key manner to gather intelligence and mitigate risks, it is surely a valuable tool.
Which brings us back to Andrews' tough talk. The Premier only went part of the way, offering little by way of a solution. But what he did do – and I think this is important – was to avoid singling out any one group. Instead, Andrews singled out the behaviour, by arguing that anti-social behaviour is unacceptable and should be punished.
Andrews has clearly been briefed by police and probably knows more than he is letting on. The big worry is not only that these gangs graduate into more serious criminal behaviour, but that they gain a sense of righteousness about what they are doing.
Odd as it may seem, a clearly delicate situation, in this case, required a rhetorical sledgehammer.
Josh Gordon is The Age's state political editor.