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Sentencing a side issue that won't end street violence

Date

Pat Easton

How many more are lurking in the shadows ready to deliver the next deadly 'coward punch'?

How many more are lurking in the shadows ready to deliver the next deadly 'coward punch'? Photo: Andrew Quilty

In the early hours of 2007, at the age of 18, in a quiet residential street about 500 metres from the epicentre of New Year's Eve celebrations in Newcastle, I was a victim of senseless violence.

I had arrived at the front step of a friend's terrace house ahead of a group of friends with whom I had just attended a Silverchair concert.

As I waited for them , a well-built and agitated male in his mid-20s emerged from the shadows across the road, accusing me of staring at him. I hadn't seen him but that wasn't going to matter in the moments ahead. Quickly realising that there was no one else around, I attempted to deflect him with a ''nah mate'' and walked towards my approaching friends.

No luck. A punch glanced the back of my head and I was dazed. Another connected and I was on the pavement, being kicked in the back. My next clear memory was of my friends containing my attacker as he screamed nonsense about his own importance.

More recently, I have been counting my lucky stars that I escaped unscathed that night. It could have been much worse.

So much has been made clear about what happened to Daniel Christie in Kings Cross. While waiting - in vain, as it transpired - for positive news, we had questions we wanted to be answered. How did this happen? Who would do such a thing? More importantly, how could this have been prevented?

In the next few days, the all too familiar story will play out. A grieving family will lay their son to rest as his life is eulogised on national television. Distraught family members will confirm for us what need not be said: this is a tragic loss.

The story will soon transition from the victim; the cameras will shift, zoom and focus on the antagonist. The accused will have his life and conduct that night flashed across our screens. A criminal defence lawyer will declare to a press pack outside a courthouse that the attacker deserves a fair trial. The trial will take place against a backdrop of saturation media coverage of the accused's life and personality.

This is a formula repeating itself before our eyes. The next stage is a flurry of business-as-usual rhetoric and chest-beating from political leaders professing to be ''tough on crime''.

As a community, we cannot afford to continue to be swept up in the story and forget the victim or circumstances leading to the event. The underlying societal factors at play will barely get a mention as the story develops.

But what really deserves our energies and attention? The punishment to be meted out to thugs? No. This is a side issue, a distraction from what matters. What matters is ending the violence.

Much has been said of Newcastle's co-ordinated and widespread community effort in recent years to end alcohol-fuelled street violence. Restricted licensing hours, lockouts, limits on shots, ID scanners and inter-venue communications have all played a role in remarkable reductions in violence.

You will not find in this cocktail any reference to tighter sentencing provisions or new forms of punishment. Instead, it is a comprehensive response appropriate to local conditions directed at preventing violence. This is reflective of a more highly evolved form of crime policy referred to as ''harm prevention'', or ''smart on crime'' - one that works.

On this occasion, we have political leaders and organisations urging us to evolve.

''We don't need knee-jerk reactions and stunts that give the illusion of action but don't make any real, lasting difference,'' Prime Minister Tony Abbott has aptly put it.

One street violence prevention initiative in Melbourne, Step Back. Think, represents a plea for restraint and it may offer guidance for the community response to the broader issue, as well.

What we need now is for us, as a community, to step back, think and consider what is really going to end the violence.

Our focus at this time should be where it matters: fewer victims, less crime and safer communities - not just more punishment. For too long, we have been accustomed to assuming punishment is the be all and end all of crime reduction policy. It isn't even close.

It is high time that we get smart on crime.

Pat Easton is a final-year law student at Melbourne Law School. He is a former resident of Newcastle and Sydney.

23 comments

  • There are now, and always have been, thugs who just like to bash people for no reason at all.

    Back in 1970 a mate of mine and another fellow parked their car in William Street, Kings Cross. Three other blokes walking by then set upon them for no reason at all. My mate was felled with a king hit that broke his nose but he managed to roll under a park bench where he couldn't be kicked. His friend wasn't so lucky and was stomped and kicked on the ground and ended up in a coma for days with a broken jaw, cheek bones, eye socket, a couple of ribs and a broken arm and wrist.

    Two of the perpetrators were caught, were fined and given suspended sentences - even though they'd done exactly the same thing many times before.

    Tough, and I mean very tough, sentencing is the only way to get these violent rogues off the streets. They see bashing people as a fun pastime and there are subcultures where such actions are lauded and where the perpetrators gain kudos for the number of blokes they've put in hospital. A mandatory ten year minimum sentence up to life without possibility of parole is the only way to go I reckon

    Personally, I'd like to see them flogged as well.

    Commenter
    Jack Richards
    Location
    Snowy Mountains
    Date and time
    January 14, 2014, 5:12PM
    • This article is very concerning - it shows that the next generation of legal professionals will further oppose the community desire for ending the street violence. All the talk about everything else but the tougher sentences is just a smoke screen for pretended actions. The do-gooders and lefties who control the justice system are only concerned about well-being of the thugs. No room for compassion for victims and their families, just empty words. I have visited New York recently, walked the streets late nights and never felt threatened, as over there is no tolerance for the violence. Sure there is a need for rehabilitation of criminals, but first there must be a strong punishment. Unfortunately O’Farrell and the legal fraternity totally failed the community.

      Commenter
      Tom
      Date and time
      January 14, 2014, 6:08PM
    • Flogging, while appealing, seems too immediate and brief. The slow and painful mental deconstruction that solitary confinement affords sounds much more appropriate. And I'd be inclined to wallpaper the cell with the victims autopsy photos too.

      Commenter
      mutt
      Date and time
      January 14, 2014, 6:10PM
    • Sigh. Another piece of tripe from an indoctrinated member of the judiciary class, pleading with us to continue giving pathetic sentences given to violent criminals who will reoffend as soon as they can. I fail to see how this is “not even close” to a solution to the problem.

      Sentences that will actually take the perpetrator out of society for long enough that they will be unlikely to reoffend should absolutely be “in the cocktail” of measures that will help reduce this kind of detestable behaviour. Sure we can introduce the same measures as were introduced in Newcastle, which worked, and toughen up sentences as well? The two are not mutually exclusive.

      Physically taking an offender away from society for a good number of years means that each of them will be physically unable to reoffend for at least that many years. And since many of them are repeat offenders, the thought by the likes of you, Pat, that removing some of them from our streets won’t reduce numbers of these attacks is illogical bordering on ignorant.

      The community has had enough of these senseless, violent crimes as much as we’ve had enough of the legal profession’s excuses for not bringing the perpetrators to justice.

      Commenter
      Andy O
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      January 14, 2014, 6:24PM
    • Jack

      For once I agree with your post, though sentencing alone will not deter as you have referenced the 1970s, there has to be a suite of measure the most important measure is breaking the drinking culture at home?, it is also sad to see some establishments in the X wanting to extend trading hours..... !! we IMO have
      to have the consequences that matches the actions and that may well have to include legislative changes.

      Possibly minimum mandatory sentences?

      It also appears many dont have respect for themselves let alone others....

      This complex issue needs a new approach because current methods to addrees this topic are not working

      Commenter
      Buffalo Bill
      Location
      Sydneys Northshore
      Date and time
      January 14, 2014, 6:39PM
    • Thanks Andy O, I wrote a very similar comment in response to this article also but it was obviously worded too harshly to be published. My point which you also put very well there is that I believe that the sentences should reflect how seriously the public view these offences. It is an important part of the solution. One of many parts.

      Commenter
      Spencer
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      January 14, 2014, 6:52PM
    • Hang on a moment, sentencing is not a ‘side issue’ – it is a major issue and one of the central planks in approaching the matter.
      There are several areas:
      (i) the broader societal issues – education about violence, examples set by public figures and leaders, approach of sporting organisations to violence in their game, etc;
      (ii) the family unit – identification and support for families (and children) at risk before the violence starts, with all the implications regarding adequate resources, etc;
      (ii) the Courts – ‘upskilling’ and education for officers of the Court (magistrates, judges) to help them better deal with these matters and approach the situation in a manner that is in tune with the broader society (some ideas which they may view as crass and beneath them), this is rather than some other conceptualisation or paradigm that they may have which resonates with their particular view of themselves;
      (iv) the individual - the offender (those found guilty) and the adequacy of sentencing, with the issue of being responsible for antisocial acts and feeling the painful consequences of such behaviour.
      Clearly, these matter deserve a detailed discussion – that is not possible with a 300 word limit. That said, you have to start somewhere.

      Commenter
      Howe Synnott
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      January 14, 2014, 7:26PM
    • Agree Jack Richards. Judges and legal professionals are seeing this as about punishment, but it is about protecting society from these people. People in jail can't bash innocent people on the street - people on bail for the third, fourth, fifth time can. The longer they are in jail the longer it is that society is safe from them.

      Commenter
      robS
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      January 14, 2014, 9:53PM
  • This i know won't get published but here goes,,,,,Politicians haven't got the guts to take on the big boys( AHA ) full stop. In my day all pubs closed at 12 mid night it was sad that we had to go home. Didn't get punched no one got spiked drinks but here i am telling the story.

    Commenter
    bull
    Location
    bulli
    Date and time
    January 14, 2014, 6:07PM
    • Statistically, more people are killed by people they know, particularly men killing their wives.
      Statistically, Australians are killing more random strangers using their vehicles on the road.

      The issue of king hits is not as important based on that but it's sensational and arouses our fears.

      Commenter
      elwyn5150
      Date and time
      January 14, 2014, 6:27PM

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