Sudanese-Australian teenagers threw rocks at each other and damaged a police car in Melbourne’s northwest on Wednesday night over a “relationship issue over a girl”, police say.
Mounted officers wandered the streets of Taylors Hill on Thursday, as Victoria Police worked to reassure the public that order had been restored.
No arrests had been made by the afternoon but police were visiting parents and schools, and were confident of making arrests within days.
About 50 people in their late-teens – from two distinct groups from Pakenham and Melton – met at the Watergardens shopping centre about 5.20pm on Wednesday after planning to fight on Facebook.
“The genesis of this fight, or this agreement to come together these two disparate groups was based on teenage relationship issues over a girl,” police regional commander Tim Hansen told reporters on Thursday.
“Words got out about I guess a relationship that the different groups weren’t happy about, and through social media as I understand it there’s been an agreement to meet in a location and have a fight over it.
The situation escalated rather rapidly.”
Mr Hansen said their intention was to “escalate the public order threat and become involved in some kind of violence”, but police successfully dispersed the teenagers.
The two groups then took buses to Lonzo Park at Taylors Hill and police followed.
“Not long after that we started to see these groups become unruly in their behaviour and that then escalated to the throwing of stones and damage to some parked vehicles nearby,” Mr Hansen said.
The groups first threw stones at each other and then at officers, smashing the rear window of a police car.
No one was injured in the clash.
Neighbours have phoned police to say baseball bats were used, however no officer saw the use of bats.
Police told residents seen outside their homes or in the garden to go back inside, but did not do a doorknock of the surrounding homes.
Riot police and a police helicopter was called in sometime after 7pm to disperse the teenagers, which Mr Hansen said was effective.
“I want to reassure the public we never lost control of this incident. We were always in control. We had a measured, balanced set of tactics that we were deploying and at every opportunity we were giving those youths the opportunities to disperse.”
Mounted police kept a presence in the area on Thursday to reassure the public as investigations continue, with potential charges for affray, criminal damage or even riotous behaviour.
The senior officer added he’d seen vision of girls fighting believed to be connected to the incident.
It comes as Melbourne remains under a national spotlight about African youth crime.
South Sudanese community representative and lawyer Maker Mayek labelled the incident “regrettable”.
“No one should feel unsafe in their homes. I’ve seen people saying their children were terrified. This is an absolutely horrific thing to see,” he told Sky News.
“It’s not the African community. It’s not the Africans in general. These are young people from the South Sudanese community and we want to make it clear no one condones their actions.”
Police Minister Lisa Neville told reporters it “was just appalling behaviour, completely unacceptable” while Premier Daniel Andrews said the rapid police response to the situation was appropriate.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said it was an “absolute disgrace” and “not something we should be accepting in 21st century Melbourne”.
Federal Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also chimed in, warning someone could get killed.
“This is our country. Everybody, regardless of your skin colour, religion, you abide by the one law,” he told Sydney radio 2GB.
“In 2018 having people riot like this … a scene from some other part of the world is unacceptable.”