By SJA Jafri (Bureau Chief Australia)
MELBOURNE: Hundreds of young gang members from different sides of Melbourne were behind violent planned fights in the CBD on Saturday night.
Witnesses to a series of wild brawls in the Melbourne CBD on Saturday night have described the clashes as like something “out of a movie” while police are doing their best to hose down concerns over youth gangs clashing violently in public.
Hundreds of young men and women from what police say are rival gangs based in Melbourne’s southeast and west respectively converged on Federation Square and Flinders Street Station shortly before midnight.
Taunting soon turned to violence as police watched on and intervened when necessary. The fighting was captured on smart-phones and shared widely on social media.
In a closed Facebook group providing community updates on criminal activity in Victoria, a user shared a picture of the two groups going head-to-head.
Hundreds of onlookers stand around watching the chaos.
“Last night was right out of The Warriors movie,” the user wrote, referring to the 1979 film about New York City street gangs.
“Flinders and Swanston (streets) filled with riot police — over 150 cops who were reluctant to do anything other than randomly spraying capsicum.
“(The clashes) went on from 12 am to 3 am. I saw about five massive clashes. There were heaps of sexy teenage girls on both sides … so I can (understand) why the guys were being all macho.”
In video footage shared with the Herald Sun, a young man removes his shirt outside St Paul’s Cathedral and swings wildly at other youths.
Victoria Police Commander Tim Hansen addressed the violence this morning. He did his best to reassure Melbournians that the city — and this long weekend’s Moomba Festival — are safe places for families, but the footage tells a different story.
“There were some incidents,” he said. “I guess we had a series of events or assault that occurred on Saturday night, a rolling maul over an hour and a half, disparate fights against the same group or similar groups.”
He said the two groups were made up of “kids that come from southeast and west of Melbourne” who “police monitor every weekend”.
“(The size of the group) ranges from 150 to 250; they are networked on social media. They know each other … some of them assume banners of street gangs.”
He said police had been monitoring the groups prior to Saturday night and planned to “meet and greet” them when they arrived in the CBD. From there, officers watched from a distance as skirmishes broke out before rushing in.
“The incidents did break out (but) we had police on the scene instantaneously,” Commander Hansen said. “I was really happy with the response I saw.”
He admitted the vision was “concerning” and “confronting” but made it clear there was no direct link with the Moomba Festival — a riverside event that has attracted violent clashes since 2016.
Commander Hansen deflected suggestions that Melbourne has a growing problem with crime.
“What we’re seeing at the moment, as a trend, is a significant downward trend in crimes against the person and total crime over the three days of the festival so far,” he said this morning.
“These (youths) are just a small population of our total young people, a very small representation. We’ll keep engaging with them, we’ll keep monitoring them.”
The violence at Moomba took place for the third year in a row despite a warning from police prior to the weekend’s events that they had “cleared out the cells” and were happy to “arrest and accommodate” those who broke the law or took part in fights.
In 2017, more than 30 teens were arrested and parts of the CBD had to be shut down. Last year’s Moomba Festival saw similar scenes.
The festival continues tonight on the banks of the Yarra River. There will be a fireworks display and, according to Commander Hansen, a heavy police presence.
“What I’m seeing as I move around Moomba is a great family event,” he said