The Guardian 2 March, 2005

Disadvantage in Macquarie Fields

As The Guardian goes to press hundreds of mainly young people in Macquarie Fields, in western Sydney, were confronting police on the streets for the fifth day. The protests, which have seen police pelted with fireworks, rocks and bottles, were sparked by the deaths of two youths in a car crash while being pursued by police.

Dylan Raywood and Matt Robertson died last Friday night in a stolen car during a police chase. Police began arresting people that night and continued during the following days.

Just as the simmering anger of the community in Redfern exploded in rage last year, so the deprived and unemployed in Macquarie Fields are venting their frustration. It is not simply Redfern replayed, but a number of the elements are paralleled: extremely low socio-economic profile; the police hounding locals, particularly the youth; a high crime rate.

With more than 11 percent unemployment, rents up to $250 a week, more than 1000 single parent households and basic infrastructure in a shambles, life for many in the mixed housing estate and private residential suburb is hard. The situation is compounded by a big police presence harassing the youths in the area.

Said one 15-year-old: "We've got nothing to do here. So the cops harass us. They pull up [outside homes] at four o'clock in the morning and play [the song] Bad Boys really loud and put their sirens on. We want revenge."

In a sweeping statement of breathtaking simplicity, Premier Bob Carr rejected social disadvantage as the cause behind the protests, attributing them to the "illegal behaviour" of individuals.

Social workers and experts on sociological phenomena take a different view, pointing out that rigid law and order strategies are not the answer and noting the correlation between "rundown housing estates" in low income areas and profound social and economic problems.

Professor Ross Homel, who specialises in the study of juvenile crime, said of the police pursuit that capital punishment is a very harsh penalty for stealing a car.

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