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Alleged vigilantes charged, denied bail for assaulting Indigenous children in Queensland

Dechlan Brennan -

Two alleged vigilantes have been denied bail after chasing and handcuffing three Indigenous boys aged between 12 and 14 who they believed were trespassing in Mareeba, near Cairns.

A 27-year-old man and a 36-year-old-man were denied bail and charged with three counts each of common assault and deprivation of liberty. They will face Mareeba Magistrates Court on January 22.

The maximum charge in Queensland for common assault is three years' prison. The maximum penalty for deprivation of liberty is three years' prison.

Queensland police say officers were called at 5pm on 23 December, following reports three boys had been allegedly trespassing in an industrial area. On arrival, police say they found the two men who had allegedly chased the boys before assaulting and restraining them using makeshift handcuffs.

The boys were released from their shackles and escorted home. A police spokesperson confirmed they were not charged with any offence.

National Indigenous Times can reveal the three boys were Indigenous, with one community member lamenting the alleged actions of the two charged men.

"Just because our First Nation kids and non Indigenous kids are committing crimes, it doesn't mean that people can take matters into their own hands, cause they feel the police and government aren't doing anything," they told National Indigenous Times.

Vigilantism has been a controversial topic in North Queensland, with locals arguing a perceived escalation in youth crime has made it warranted. In response, the QPS have consistently argued against vigilante action.

Last year, a mob of 30 people in Rockhampton surrounded a home after a series of hostile and racially charged comments online were directed at two Aboriginal young people believed to be living in the residence.

Former One Nation candidate Torin O'Brien posted the names and photographs of the two young people on Facebook, suggesting they were responsible for some recent criminal activity and people should "go and visit … just let them know we've all had enough".

"To put it simply … the more you f**k around, the more you find out," Mr O'Brien wrote on Facebook at the time.

Police were required to stand guard and, in the aftermath, Queensland's police commissioner Katarina Carroll stated: "What we'll end up with is a death".

"We've seen that before. What you see on social media is not evidence and the people feeding this don't have the skills or the knowledge or the information that police have in doing their jobs," Ms Carroll said.

In another social media charged incident, Guardian Australia reported in February 2023 children in a Queensland residential home were subjected to death threats on social media. These included calls for residents to "storm the house" and "hang whoever is inside".

Social media posts seen by National Indigenous Times concerning the alleged vigilante action in Mareeba, include racial slurs, calls for vigilante action, and criticism of police and judges for being allegedly "soft" on crime.

Others have called for members of the public to continue to take things into their own hands.

After the Rockhampton riot in May, Facebook removed a Facebook group that had over 12,000 members and which featured a series of racial slurs.

Guardian Australia reported at the time local Indigenous groups believed there was a flaming of tension by Labor, with local MP Barry O'Rourke inviting O'Brien to a since-abandoned meeting.

Labor has spruiked a tough on crime mentality in the last year, twice suspending the state's human rights act to allow children to be charged for bail offences and be held in adult watch houses.

The maximum penalty for motor vehicle theft for a juvenile was increased to a maximum of 14 years. There are also increased penalties for boasting of crimes on social media.

National Indigenous Times has reported on the surge in juveniles being held behind bars; many denied bail due to family circumstances.

Indigenous, legal and social groups have routinely criticised the youth justice crackdown and argued that whilst some children are committing crimes, incarceration only offers a punitive, rather than holistic, approach.

The QPS are appealing to anyone who may have information in relation to the Mareeba alleged vigilante incident to come forward.

by Dechlan Brennan with Joseph Guenzler

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