A member of the Apex gang which was at the centre of an extraordinary brawl involving more than 100 people in Melbourne’s CBD says the incident has been blown out of proportion.
‘James’, who spoke to 7.30 on the condition of anonymity, said he was in Federation Square on Saturday night but did not take part in the fighting.
“I wouldn’t say that it was a really big thing, you know,” he said.
“The media always speculates and tries to make things sound big, bigger than they are.”
Explaining why the mass brawl happened, he said: “Some people might just want a reputation or someone said something wrong to someone and the fight just happened – or maybe it’s rivalry.”
The Apex gang had its genesis on Apex Street, a quiet suburban street in Dandenong on Melbourne’s eastern fringe.
At the beginning, police say, it was mostly young South Sudanese-Australians involved in petty crime.
But more recently, the group has merged with another gang, YCW – made up of Pacific Islanders, Maoris and Anglo-Australians.
“I suppose [the] profile of the gang member, it’s a young person aged between 12 and 13 years of age to an 18- to 19-year-old person,” Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Robert Hill told 7.30.
“This is not a structured, organised crime gang.
“Apex are a group of youth that are connected effectively by social media.”
But he insisted they were still a gang. James disagrees. “I wouldn’t call it a gang,” he said.
“It’s just a group of youths. Everyone’s got to have friends, you know. It means brotherhood. Everyone looks after each other.”
Apex ‘stealing luxury cars’
Police said recently the group’s crimes had become more serious and widespread, and 35 members had been charged with a range of offences over the last couple of months.
“We are seeing these young people breaking into homes, confronting owners of luxury motorcars that might be parked in the driveway, demanding keys to those luxury vehicles and then stealing the cars from the driveways,” Mr Hill said.
“We know that there’s some links with outlaw motorcycle gangs, we certainly know that there are other organised crime groups that are involved in the export of these vehicles.”
James denied any knowledge of organised criminal activity in the gang.
He came to Australia with his family from South Sudan when he was eight.
Despite being a good student he did not finish year 12 and moved out of home at 16.
He joined Apex when he was 14 and has been in trouble with the law a few times – but he would not say what he had been charged with.
He said growing up in Dandenong was hard.
“Lack of school, no jobs … lack of employment,” he told 7.30.
James said Apex appealed to disaffected youth looking for a community.
“They are just kids, they have had a couple of hiccups but people have got to give them a chance, they are still young,” he said.
Premier says ‘no sympathy’ for disadvantaged kids joining gang
But stories of disadvantage are getting no sympathy from the authorities.
“It does not matter who you are, your circumstances, your background, if you break the law you feel the full force of the law,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.
“I’m not interested, and neither are Victorians, in these ‘poor me’ stories.”
James called the Premier’s position “ridiculous”.
“I think that’s wrong to say that,” he said.
“People find that offensive … because it’s coming from a person who is in a very high position.”
Police arrested four people on the night of the brawl and said they would be making more arrests.
But James believes the focus on Apex is unfair and based on race.
“There were two groups involved in this incident in the city but they only targeting one group, the Apex group,” he said.