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The killing punch

Date

Mindless violence and blood on the streets: where's the outrage?

David Cassai was killed after being punched during an altercation at Rye.

David Cassai was killed after being punched during an altercation at Rye.

JUST over a century ago, the Russian novelist Alexandre Kuprin penned a searing account of prostitution in his homeland. Remarkable for its time, Yama: The Pit, unflinchingly detailed the evils inflicted on those in the industry, and condemned the public's complacency about the issue. ''The horror,'' he wrote, ''is … that there is no horror.''

Kuprin's condemnation of an apathetic society came back to me when I read an account of Monday night's New Year's celebrations.

''Victoria Police has praised the behaviour of New Year's Eve revellers,'' The Age reported, adding: ''Officers made 182 arrests for assaults.''

Another 240 people had been arrested for drunkenness, the paper went on to say, and ''in seaside Lorne, an 18-year-old was stabbed in the chest during a fight just before midnight''. He was in a serious but stable condition.

All this was recorded on page four in an eight-paragraph story right under the report of our ''all-time low'' annual road toll of 279 deaths - hey, well done, folks! - and adjacent to another report on the arrest of 84 concert-goers for carrying illegal substances into the Summadayze music festival at the Myer Music Bowl. (Carols by Candlelight a week earlier at the same venue suddenly seemed an awfully long time ago.)

The police were even more upbeat about New Year's Eve on their own website, headlining a report of the hundreds of arrests for drunkenness and assault in this way: ''Good behaviour the theme of the night for NYE.''

Good behaviour - really? Who interprets these figures, Tony Soprano? If that's a good night, I'd hate to see a bad one. As Kuprin might have asked: ''Where's the horror?'' Any night involving 182 assaults, including a stabbing that puts someone in hospital and close to death, has to be defined as anarchic. And they are just the ones reported to police. Who knows how many other assaults occurred that did not go further than the pub car park or the family home. I hate to think.

Of course, police were comparing the figures with those of previous years, which were higher. But it should not be about comparisons - 182 assaults is far too many, and so is 240 arrests for drunkenness. In any year. Come to think of it, 279 road deaths is unacceptable, too, and police acknowledged that in their public statements. Why the different tack on assaults?

There was some horror, though. The public was clearly outraged by the tragic death of David Cassai, the 22-year-old Templestowe landscaper who died after allegedly being king hit outside a Rye pizza parlour about 1am on Monday. Several arrests have been made, including that of an 18-year-old charged with manslaughter.

Putting aside that particular incident, in a general sense one-punch deaths have become all too common, prompting senior police to theorise that there is a disconnect between violence depicted on screen and the reality that too often confronts them.

On television or in movies and video games, victims of attacks merely pick themselves up, brush themselves off and get back into the fray. That does not happen in real life, where one punch can kill.

Perhaps it's time for a public education campaign along those lines. The ''One Punch Can Kill'' campaign could screen during those Ultimate Fighter programs Foxtel loves to air and spruik with the promise: ''Someone's going to get hurt.'' Thousands of young men eat this stuff up. Is it any surprise they are over-represented in violent assaults both as perpetrators and victims?

If we could have the same success with an anti-violence campaign as we've had with our .05 policing - ''only'' 55 drink-driving offences were recorded New Year's Eve - we might begin to make inroads into our violent sub-culture.

Certainly, there would be fewer instances of gross violence if we were a little less accepting of minor assaults. Should not we be rising up in anger over almost 200 attacks in one night? Instead we applaud the community for its ''good behaviour''. There's another disconnect. Two weeks before Christmas, Victoria's Attorney-General, Robert Clark, introduced legislation that provides for a statutory minimum sentence of four years' jail for attacks involving gross violence.

''For too long, the law has not done enough to protect innocent Victorians from being victims of horrific, unprovoked attacks that leave terrible lifelong injuries,'' he said in his second reading speech.

The Crimes Amendment (Gross Violence Offences) Bill fulfils an election commitment and recognises not only the epidemic of violence confronting us, but also that some judges simply don't get it.

This takes some elements of the sentencing decision out of their hands and should ensure that mindless thugs get their just desserts. It's a step in the right direction.

In the meantime, we should not sugarcoat one of the biggest cultural problems we face by applauding good behaviour that is clearly bad, and accepting levels of assault that are inimical to a decent, law-abiding society. To do so only invites more violence, and that's too horrible to contemplate.

Bruce Guthrie is a former editor of The Age and The Sunday Age.

84 comments

  • 182 assaults out of over 300,000 people is a great result. Last I heard, 1% of humanity are psychopaths.

    Commenter
    Gusso
    Date and time
    January 06, 2013, 12:35AM
    • Aggression and violence provides perverse status within certain youth male sub-cultures in Australian society and has done so during living memory. It will take a total cultural revolution to make significant headway against this destructive and dangerous immaturity.

      Commenter
      Mikie
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      January 06, 2013, 1:08AM
      • There are several ugly and depressing truths to confront:

        1. A significant number of young human males are violent, or prone to violence when not in control. We have a depressing history of conflict, abuse, war, enslavement etc. that proves this.

        2. I would guess that 75% of these violent incidents would not happen if the perpetrators were not intoxicated. Yet we refuse to do anything meaningful about restricting access to it.

        3. The bonds of our society and its family units are being eroded by various factors.
        i) People are not growing up with the social education, family structure, discipline and guidance that held communities together. Instead, teachers cannot criticise or punish misbehaviour. Parents can't spank their kids. And a large number of children are raised to be entitled, selfish and uncaring individuals.
        ii) The transition from a democracy to a corporatocracy means that everything, including our social fabric, is sacrificed for the sake of profit. People are being changed from citizens to employees and consumers by abstract entities that have no morals and no compassion.
        From the time we are born we are being indoctrinated to put our own short-term gain before the wellbeing of our communities, our societies, our fellow citizens and future generations.

        And we let it happen. Like blinkered cattle we keep choosing between two large, company-owned political parties rather than investigating candidates who might offer real change. We allow laws to be passed that strip individuals of benefits while giant international conglomerates receive billions in subsidies. We accept the personal benefits this brings and shake our heads sorrowfully at the breakdown of our society.

        I suggest everyone go listen to Midnight Oil's 'Power And The Passion' and wake up.

        Commenter
        El Rey
        Location
        Elwood
        Date and time
        January 06, 2013, 1:12AM
        • The population of Victoria is approx. 5 million people. Let's say 10% of the population left their home to celebrate New Year's Eve. In that case, according to your article, 0.000364 of all revellers were arrested for assault - or 0.0000364 of the entire population. You could double that figure, triple it, quadruple it - it is still what any criminologist would call "statistically insignificant". A figure so infinitesimally small as to be of no consequence. This article is nothing but knee-jerk fear-mongering.

          Commenter
          P.Nut
          Date and time
          January 06, 2013, 1:21AM
          • I am with you, Bruce. ANY violence in a peace-time homeland situation warrants societal and individual abhorrence. A young man dying in an ad libitum street fight is as tragic as it gets, but the numerous (>182) "lesser" assaults are similarly repugnant. I don't know if the rate of violence has increased, or if it is just more completely reported, but I, amongst many, elected to spend the calendar transition at home.
            As you correctly enlighten us, a concerted campaign to address the situation is urgently warranted - anything less is patently incongruous given the anti-drink driving, anti-speeding, anti-smoking, etc campaigns of which we are all aware.

            Commenter
            Antiantihoon
            Location
            Victoria
            Date and time
            January 06, 2013, 1:40AM
            • Great read, and spot on.

              I'm from Melbourne, but now live in China. I don't know where the difference comes from, but walking the streets here at night feels many, many times safer than the CBD back home.

              The TV here has just as much violence on it (though a lot of it is Japanese Chinese wartime violence) yet the streets are so much safer. There is nowhere near as much police presence here either. Alcohol is served far more freely here, and club and bar patrons are given a lot more respect and freedom than the tough guys who man doors pay out in Melbourne.

              Don't get me wrong, I've seen fights here, and when they happen, they go all out. It's sickening. But somehow a developed country, with more police, funding, resources and presumably common sense feels considerably less safe than this one. I'd love to put it down to a macho culture, but there are 120 Chinese blokes to every 100 women, so that doesn't work out either.

              I'd love to hear if others have any ideas on how Chine seems so much safer with so many less police, so fewer rules and regulations, and a truck load more men running around the streets?

              Commenter
              Archie
              Location
              China
              Date and time
              January 06, 2013, 2:06AM
              • Bruce you've nailed it. The rate of assault is far too high. There are a lot of angry people out there. Some people think that they have a automatic right to wealth and happiness and they get envious and resentful when it doesn't get gratified immediately. Throw in an unhealthy dose of alcohol and other chemicals and it all spews out in a twisted and warped act of violence.

                How often do we have to read that the assault victim was a happy go lucky individual loved by family and friends and the assaulter is from a deprived background with big shortages of love, care and attention. All too often.

                Commenter
                Pops
                Location
                Geelong
                Date and time
                January 06, 2013, 2:38AM
                • Working in the emergency dept of a large metro hospital has exposed me to the spectrum of injuries incurred from alcohol fuelled assault. What the perpetrators don't realize is that these injuries are often far more serious than initially intended. Whether it be a blow out fracture of the eye socket or a catastrophic brain bleed - the consequences are long lasting and completely unnecessary. Why the hate for our fellow man?

                  Commenter
                  thabo
                  Location
                  Melbourne
                  Date and time
                  January 06, 2013, 3:50AM
                  • It's all relative to the crowd. 280 arrests in nearly 750,000 people is something we can be happy with,of course you'd love zero but really Bruce Guthrie ,we had 158 arrests at the afl grand final for drunk,fight,unruly,exposure,theft,etc. really this is a poor and lazy article trying to beat up something that clearly doesn't offend anyone. Yes we can be proud of the numbers,if it was 280 in a crowd of 10,000 ,then we have a story.....find something better to write about Bruce,no wonder it says you are a former editor and head honcho ,poor poor poor.

                    Commenter
                    John
                    Location
                    Sth Morang
                    Date and time
                    January 06, 2013, 4:14AM
                    • "The Crimes Amendment (Gross Violence Offences) Bill fulfils an election commitment and recognises not only the epidemic of violence confronting us, BUT ALSO THAT SOME JUDGES SIMPLY DON'T GET IT"

                      Ain't that the truth

                      Commenter
                      JOHN
                      Date and time
                      January 06, 2013, 5:03AM

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