Sydney’s Tale of Violence

Police on patrol at Kings Cross. Source: News Limited

A young man at the cusp of adulthood decides to celebrate his weekend in the company of his close friends and significant other. In the search for a decent venue he decides that the best way is to celebrate in a nightclub and enjoy the benefits of the nightlife; alcohol, dance and excitement. He and his friends are cautious enough to plan ahead, organising drop-offs and carpools, designated drivers and the like beforehand. They are determined to enjoy their night.

Meanwhile, another young man of a similar age decides that, under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol and the aggravation of testosterone, decides to celebrate his night by inflicting grievous harm to another human being. In his own terms, he will do it just for the sake of ‘bashing someone’. Because of the circumstances, he is unconscious to the consequences of his own actions, but is nevertheless conscious enough to decide that this path is the right one to take. Accompanied by several of his friends, under similar influence, they head out towards the nightclub scene. They are determined to enjoy their night.

By the many have finished reading this it seems that a certain shadow of dissent has been cast eerily close to reality. And already, many have pieced together the remainder of the story; the two parties meet (either for a fleeting moment or in confrontation), someone is hit and rendered unconscious, one party flees, and the police and paramedics are alerted to yet another assault in the course of the long night. Such a tale, although fictional, seems all too telling of the recent spate of assaults across Sydney. Thomas Kelly. Daniel Christie. Familiar names and faces that have involved several of the following criteria: nightclubs, alcohol, and dominant male aggression. It is by a tragic combination of all these factors that has seen their lives, and more that have not been mentioned, perished by nothing more than an instantaneous moment. And in the wake of destruction are the families, their lives shattered by a single punch, and the lives of ordinary Australians, further put at risk by the reckless string of behaviour.

Further destruction results from the inability of police and prosecutors to effectively contain the situation. It follows the sheer lack of evidence and the unreliability of the perpetrator, both before and after the incident that makes any form of prosecution difficult. The trial of Kieran Loveridge, for the murder of Thomas Kelly (murder, not manslaughter), was ill-conceived from the start; no-one can prove in a whit that this was a pre-meditated crime, let alone attempt to convict him based off small-time offences beforehand. Furthermore, the storm of media furore over the incident made the impersonal personal; it turned the family’s desire for punishment into a public desire, and conveyed further dissatisfaction and cynicism when the sentence was finally handed down. Worse still was the reaction from the public towards the sentencing, which bore eerie similarity to the Zimmerman ruling of last year; based on emotion more than reason, misinterpreting the system of justice, and hailing the apocalyptic end of the prosecution system.

Thomas Kelly was king-hit and killed in July 2012. Source: news.com.au

Kieran Loveridge leaves St James Road Court sentencing hearing in custody, for the manslaughter of 18-year-old Thomas Kelly. Source: News Limited

Perhaps those disgruntled about the sentencing are missing the bottom line; Loveridge is now in jail for a period of time (that, admittedly, could have lasted longer). If anything it demonstrates the power of the media to rally for a cause. Add the fuel of moral outrage and the infectious spread of social media to the mix to give birth to the myopic attempts of journalists to cover these stories. Today I encountered yet another piece discussing the aftermath of Christie’s death, which (rightly) denounced attackers as ‘gutless thugs’. But I was otherwise dismayed at what other people passed off as ‘serious journalism’; no more than summarising the current situation and expressing moral indignation at its plight. More alarming was this quote further in:

There are tens of thousands of Australians who frequently engage in what those abstemious folks in the health lobby describe as “dangerous” drinking. They do so without sending anyone to hospital, or to an early grave. I am one of them. So is almost everyone I know. For me, “dangerous” drinking brings with it the risk of winding up in a karaoke bar and singing a woeful version of Air Supply’s “All Out Of Love” or having a savage argument with my mate Darien about the result of the 1978 SANFL grand final.

Of all the stupid and uninformative articles that have attempted to tackle the issue, this one takes the crown. Defending your own substance abuse whilst condemning people like McNeil for their use of other anti-social drugs seems to be the height of hypocrisy, even if these people do not engage in such reckless and dangerous behaviour. And yet again no solution beyond lockouts and prohibitions has been offered – a telling factor of people merely wishing to comment on the issue at hand rather than attempt to help solve it. (Writing this article as such will draw controversy, as I am yet to present any solution myself). Now I am not attempting to defend the people who committed these assaults by stating ‘they were drunk’, as if it were a patent excuse to let them off the hook. But consider this statement from Dr. Bruce Bartholow of the University of Missouri, who has studied the effects of alcohol on brain processes:

It’s not as though people do drunken things because they’re not aware of their behavior, but rather they seem to be less bothered by the implications or consequences of their behavior than they normally would be…

Perhaps it’s best to try and engage it from the start; the attackers of  both Kelly and Christie had high aggression levels, came from difficult family circumstances (at least in Loveridge’s case) and were involved in sports or activities that likely heightened their drive of masculinity. (In Loveridge’s case, we have Rugby; in McNeil’s we have mixed-martial arts). Their excessive consumption of alcohol, and the social pressure of being surrounded by their friends made any recognition of the consequences of their action impossible. (Loveridge himself mentioned “I swear I’m going to bash someone tonight.”; McNeil was out with his partner before the altercation). Without any sense of judgement they attacked their victims, thus landing us into the complex picture we find ourselves in. That’s it; case closed. Attempting to hair-split conspiracies or nutty proclamations about the dangers of the nightlife is mostly irrelevant to the crazed circumstances surrounding the death of the two young men.

Daniel Christie was king-hit on New Years Eve 2013. He died in hospital less than two weeks later.

Perhaps the solution lies deeper than merely cracking down on the bad behaviour in the middle of the night. Targeting prohibitions, lockouts, crime hotspots and the like are all solutions with benefits unto themselves, but they will not address the root of the problem, rooted inherently in perceptions of masculinity and psychology. Aside from all this – done as a start, rather than a band-aid solution – we should be attempting to educate young men on the dangers of such behaviour. We should be teaching people the dangers of any excessive alcohol consumption, regardless of the situation. We should be confronting the stream of aggression present in young (and old) men, and encouraging them to channel it into hobbies and sport, rather than bottling it up and letting it run rampant from a few drinks. We should also be educating people that, in any circumstance, the nightlife is as dangerous as much as it is fun, and that level-headedness and self-control are the best ways to stay safe and have fun, as opposed to the common notion of ‘drink more…and more…and more…and be merry.’

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