Real Heroes Walk Away
It is just over 100 days since 18-year-old Thomas Kelly died from an alleged king-hit while walking down the street in Kings Cross with his girlfriend on the night of Friday July 7.
His death was completely senseless. It broke the nation’s heart. It also inflamed our shared sense of dismay at the casual nature of violence on our streets. But despite all the coverage the case received, since Thomas Kelly died there is little evidence of any significant reduction in the frequency or nature of this violence.
Since that terrible night in Kings Cross, in my hometown of Adelaide alone, two young men have died and another remains in hospital after unprovoked king-hit attacks. The cases received limited attention nationally, largely for the depressing reason that similar cases were playing out in other parts of the country.
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We know how to stop this country’s binge on alcohol-fuelled violence.
The answers have been sitting in some bureaucrat’s drawer in Canberra since 2009 – when some guy called Rudd was PM.
They’re in a technical manual, likely with a dust-coated cover. The manual details the merits of a banquet of measures that could be introduced by the Federal Government to tackle the issue. And it’s time someone picked it out of the drawer and blew the dust away. God knows Dr Anthony Lynham wants someone to.
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New Year’s Eve. The one day of the year that almost every country celebrates the passing of time and every person stops to re-evaluate the last 12 months. They laugh about the good, cry about the bad and become excited about the possibilities ahead. In 2009 I was no exception. I had the world at my feet – until my world shattered beneath me.
I was working as the Officer in Charge of Minyerri Police Station, based in the Minyerri Aboriginal Community in the Northern Territory. My husband, Brett, and I had transferred to the Northern Territory Police from NSW with our three children. We were based at Katherine, Brett being a Sergeant himself, and I had moved to Minyerri temporarily as part of the Government intervention.
I travelled back to Katherine on New Year’s Eve to see my family and also stock up on local supplies. I recall asking Brett what his plans were for the night, since he wasn’t working, and he replied by saying that he was taking the children for dinner and having an early night. I laughed, saying that it was New Year’s Eve and he should go out and have fun. I regret those words every day.
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People from Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland, are often typecast by the British media as violent drunks.
The stereotype has truth to it. Or had. Just like Australians, Scotsmen love to drink and punch people. Glasgow’s got one of the highest rates of alcohol-related violence in the world. Someone having their face slashed from the corners of their mouth to their ears is known as the “Glasgow grin”, which says a lot about the industrial city’s problem with knife crime.
And in 2004, the UN found it to be the murder capital of Europe. Not really a title you want your city to have when you’re a top cop with the local police, as Karyn McCluskey was at the time. Ms McCluskey has been key in turning Glasgow’s fortunes around – and as king-hit violence leaves young men clinging to life around Australia every weekend, there’s plenty we can learn from what this city has achieved.
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I teach angry young men to fight. I know how they feel because I used to be one of them. As a professional boxer and also an Anglican priest, I’ve seen disaffected kids find a sense of worth, discipline and community by entering the ring.
I understand the impassioned debate about violence in Kings Cross and I agree that alcohol and late opening hours are a problem. They are, however, merely drivers of street violence, not the cause. In my opinion, what leads young men to such apparently random and senseless aggression runs much deeper.
I started our Fight Club, essentially a boxing gym at our youth centre in Dulwich Hill, more than two decades ago, when the local streets were awash with heroin. In all those years I have looked many young men in the eyes as we have sparred in the ring and I have learnt a lot about their lives.
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I’ve never been in a fight. I’m not the macho, hot-headed type.
I get angry, to be sure. People piss me off sometimes. But with the exception of a defenceless real estate sign I beat up when I was 18 (I was pissed, I woke up my mother, I lied about it, she knew it, there were some awkward silences), I don’t channel that anger through my fists.
I may placate; I may be a “pussy”. I may have been called soft a couple of times when I’ve talked mates back from the edge of conflict. But I’m proud to say I walk away, and I always have.
Last week my colleagues at news.com.au and I launched Real Heroes Walk Away - a campaign against senseless violence. We were all horrified by what happened to Thomas Kelly. And to Luke Adams before him. And to David Mitchell and Matthew Stanley. And my brother.
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Before he went all whimsical-Mary-Poppins-kitsch with his London Olympics opening ceremony, Danny Boyle directed the darkly disturbing zombie flick, 28 Days Later.
In the film the highly contagious Rage virus cascades through society, turning everyone it touches into raving angry psychotics in a matter of seconds.
You’d be forgiven for seeing it as a commentary on modern society, with so much furious spittle flying from mindless mouths. A quick database search of the nation’s major newspapers brings up 609 stories on angry people. It’s not very scientific, but it does show that our community tends to be infuriated quite a bit.
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From the moment Thomas Kelly’s parents, Ralph and Kathy, stepped in front of the media our hearts felt for this grieving family. They had the faces of parents I’d witnessed a thousand times before, the faces of parents who have just lost their child through an act of violence.
Over the past ten years I have worked with over 1,000 individuals and families bereaved by homicide. Many of them including a one-punch fatal assault such as Thomas Kelly’s, or like my father’s.
In just a few seconds in November 2000, my family’s lives changed forever when a 26-year-old male assaulted my then 49-year-old and 55 kilogram father. I waited, as the Kelly’s will, for weeks, for months and then years before the case proceeded to the Supreme Court with the offender charged with manslaughter.
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This week saw the launch of Real Heroes Walk Away, the national campaign against violence which aims to end the king-hit culture that has seen so many young Australian men killed or injured in random and often drunken assaults.
The campaign, launched by News Limited newspapers and the national website news.com.au, is different from other campaigns in that it doesn’t demand that the government act or the police do more. Rather, it is framed around a belief in personal responsibility. The only way this problem can ever be solved is if individuals take ownership of their actions and think through the consequences of those actions.
The only way this behaviour can ever be challenged is if good blokes speak up and intervene when they see their mates acting in a violent fashion.
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Senselessness, randomness, consequences.
In any discussion about alcohol-fuelled violence these three words stand out.
Within seconds of throwing a punch, everything is thrown into overdrive. Family connections change and people’s lives are transformed forever.
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David Mitchell. Matthew Stanley. If those names don’t mean anything to you, they belong to two people - a then 19-year-old apprentice carpenter and a 15-year-old - who have been victim to senseless violence in recent years.
Matthew didn’t live to tell the tale. David did, barely. Both their stories, and more, are circulating this morning as news.com.au launches a huge campaign against violence on our streets, in our pubs, and throughout our community: Real Heroes Walk Away. Get the full picture. Read about the issue from all angles at news.com.au.
As one victim, David Mitchell, said: “People are losing their lives over a drink being spilt, over nothing. Breathing someone’s oxygen.” And that’s true. They’re losing their lives because of the stupid, thoughtless, personal choices of their assailants. But to zoom out a little, big cultural problems have responsibility.
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