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  • Tim Muirhead

Anti-social, or pro-social?

We need to talk about anti-social behaviour in Fremantle. We all have a right to feel safe and welcome in this place we live, work and play. No one should question that right, or criticise those who call for safety.  But we need to talk, too, about what we can do about it.   

The idea that ‘more police’ or ‘more security guards’ will reduce it is—sorry—a distracting fantasy. I’m sure the police themselves will tell you this. They simply cannot be in every park, or outside every shop at every minute of every day.  Some might propose that we re-introduce curfews for ‘undesirables’, much as we did for Aboriginal people for so long. To state the obvious: that would be VERY anti-social. It would also, of course, promote rage, which creates more anti-social behaviour.

So, then, what?

Our City Centre, like Centres around the world, draws many people. Some of us live here; some come for work, or for entertainment, or to meet others. Some are international tourists.  Some of us have mental ill-health. Some are trapped in addiction, others in a cycle of homelessness and poverty. Some of us are angered by being treated like outcasts in our own land. Some have been damaged by trauma; sometimes generations of trauma. We are diverse. That’s the nature of City Centres.  And we all have a right to feel safe in this place that we share.  

But here’s the thing: if human beings often feel abused, or insulted, or ignored or devalued, we can feel that we don’t ‘belong’. If we feel like we don’t belong, we’re more likely to act like we don’t belong. And if we act like we don’t belong then people are more likely to treat us like we don’t belong. The cycle of alienation continues and grows. If we don’t feel connected to others, we’re more likely to hate them or even hurt them. 

And of course those who are struggling – with mental-ill health, with addiction, with homelessness or poverty or trauma or loss – experience terrible anti-social behaviour in our town. They are, for much of their day, hounded and judged and ignored and controlled.  And that breeds anger and alienation; and anger and alienation puts us all at greater risk – anti-social behaviour breeds anti-social behaviour.

So, if we want to reduce our vicious cycle of ‘anti-social’ behaviour, maybe we, in Freo, can ask: how can we feed a cycle of connection and belonging (‘we belong here together’) rather than a cycle of alienation (‘you don’t belong here’)? Even with people who are visibly ‘different’ to the mainstream; even people who scare us. What can we do, individually and collectively, to create a place where all of us feel safe and welcomed? A place here the shopkeeper doesn’t fear theft and abuse, where the old man on the grass doesn’t experience alienation and judgement, where the lost, homeless grandmother can find shelter, and none of us need to fear or witness conflict and violence? What can we do?

Can we smile and nod to that old man on the grass? Can we make a point of respectfully acknowledging the woman asking for money, and even give a few coins? Can we chat to the dishevelled person who wants to chat to us? Can we accept, rather than alienate, the person who looks a bit crazy? Can we ask for more of our taxes to be spent catering for the homeless and the poor; for more of our rates on ‘ranger’ services that are based on connection, rather than ineffective control? (Skilled rangers, by the way, are brilliant at this! Can we thank them when we witness that skill?)

Can we, together, make Freo a ‘pro-social’ place, that welcomes those who, like we, are drawn to it; a place where we all feel safer, and where we all, in our amazing diversity, belong?

Or will we, too, play our part in the anti-social cycle of alienation that ends up hurting us all?

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