Books & Literature

Book Review: Melbourne Under Siege, by Brian Williams

Are the youth out of control, are immigrants destroying our culture, or are these just perennial prejudices inflamed by the media?

Readily comprehensible and an inoculation against sensationalist media hype.

For Baby Boomers, the arrival of Gen X was evidence of irreversible moral decay, much to the latter’s disgust. Generation X then aged and mellowed, and inevitably became copies of their parents by adopting a fear and disdain of Millennials. It is cyclical.

Similarly, in Melbourne Under Siege: The moral panic behind the Apex gang and youth crime, lawyer and educator Dr Brian Williams seeks to demonstrate that a public perception that youth crime is out of control. It has existed in Melbourne since the city’s inception. This is despite successive crackdowns, and the fact that the panic about young African offenders and a group known as the Apex gang are simply a continuation of this trend, albeit with racial overtones and the added complication of social media.  

Williams’ stated intention at the outset is to separate the facts from the fables, to provide a clinical and dispassionate analysis of the reality of youth crime in Melbourne, and he does achieve this to a large extent. He does, when referring to offenders, seemingly exhaust all thesaurus alternatives to “reprobate” or “ne’er-do-well”, so he does inadvertently impart his own value judgements, despite his scathing criticism of those that do so more explicitly.

The historical context provided regarding Melbourne’s street crime history is fascinating, as is the discussion of the origins of the Apex gang, but the middle part of Melbourne Under Siege becomes a little repetitious, as case after case of violent offending is painstakingly described. Perhaps such voyeurism is what readers of true crime are looking for, but it does little to advance his stated goal of calming the debate over the extent of the problem.

He does provide measured solutions at the book’s conclusion, which are certainly more educated and reasonable than your average Letter to the Editor. He could, though, have devoted more time to analysis of how to address the role that social media plays in igniting and facilitating youth offending, but that perhaps deserves a book of its own.

Melbourne Under Siege, while written by an academic and dealing with complex criminology issues, is readily comprehensible to the lay-reader, and is, mostly, a thorough inoculation against sensationalist media hype.

Reviewed by James Murphy

Distributed by: New Holland Publishers
Released: March 2019
RRP: $32.99

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