Fears Docklands is fast becoming a “no-go zone” at night following fatal stabbing

Brendan Rees

Docklands residents have expressed increased concerns about safety in their neighbourhoods after a 23-year-old rising basketball star was tragically stabbed to death last month.

Alier Riak has been remembered as an “inspiring young man” and someone who “loved giving back to his community” after he was killed and his 26-year-old brother Kuol Riak seriously injured during an alleged brawl on Bourke St, near Harbour Esplanade, at around 3.20am on March 13.

The victims had travelled from Western Australia and were understood to be out celebrating a birthday when the incident occurred.

Mr Riak was taken to hospital but died a short time later after succumbing to his stab wounds.

The tragedy has shaken many in the Docklands community, who fear the precinct is “fast becoming a no-go zone” at night due to reports of increased violence, anti-social behaviour, and public intoxication.

A Docklands Representative Group (DRG) spokesperson said, “The tragic Moomba weekend incident was shocking – but not surprising.”

“Regrettably, this fatality was just one of several violent incidents in Docklands that night, with Harbour Esplanade earlier being closed off by police and ambulance for a post-event altercation.”   

“While residents have been raising the issue of safety around high levels of alcohol consumption for years, it is a sad fact that alcohol-fuelled violence is making some key parts of Docklands ‘no go’ areas.”

The DRG spokesperson said while resolving the issue was complex, “one thing is for sure – businesses need to start playing a role – both the venues that supply the alcohol, as well as the Docklands Chamber of Commerce.”

“They have to look at their corporate social responsibility in terms of their operations and what impact this has upon the local community.”

However, Shane Wylie, executive officer of the Docklands Chamber of Commerce, said while he understood the concerns from residents, the chamber had “zero powers of enforcement” in terms of venues adhering to noise limits and liquor licensing.

“Recently there has been a barrage of complaints across social media and in-person regarding noise from venues, operating hours, provision of liquor and blurring of trading regulations such as street karaoke,” he said.

“When I am personally made aware of a complaint against a member, I will address that with the member, but we have zero powers of enforcement and I’d encourage registering the complaint with the City of Melbourne or calling the non-urgent police line 131 444 when the need is immediate.”

Speaking as a Docklands resident, City of Melbourne councillor Jamal Hakim said his view was that “safety is really important and a top priority.”

“I think it’s really important for us to create safe environments for everyone … I completely share any concerns residents have,” he said.

Cr Hakim said his thoughts and deepest condolences were with the family of Mr Riak, who had suffered an immeasurable amount of grief.

“It’s always horrible to be in that circumstance regardless of whether it’s a one-off incident.”

However, Cr Hakim said as the city recovered from the pandemic and visitation levels increased, he urged the community “to watch out for each other.”

“The way we need to deal with it is to talk about it and to be mindful of that and to watch out for each other,” he said.

“I do feel that we have a really safe suburb in Docklands … and obviously we want more people to come into Docklands on the weekends.”

Asked if incidents of anti-social behaviour and violence appeared to be increasing, Cr Hakim said “not that I’ve seen so far personally … I feel Docklands is more of a family destination, so I think we get much less of that [crime activity].”

“I personally don’t see that there’s a cluster or anything to be excessively concerned about,” he said, but added, “that doesn’t negate that fact that some people might be concerned, and I think that’s really important to talk about.”

However, long-time local business owner Andrew Ward, who operates PUSH! Fitness on Collins St, said he felt not enough was being done to rid the streets of crime and anti-social behaviour.

“I’m a businessperson fed-up with the PR spin and no attention to the critical issues in Docklands – continually by the City of Melbourne, the Lord Mayor, and local councillors who are doing nothing,” he said.

 

My key point is the day after someone was murdered in Docklands, I would’ve expected a press conference with the Lord Mayor, the commander of West Melbourne police, community groups, and business leaders on what we’re going to do to clean it up – not more discount vouchers.

 

Mr Ward said he was also disappointed that his concerns of crime and its impact to amenity had fallen on deaf ears after he wrote a letter to the City of Melbourne and Victoria Police a year ago.

“Nothing has changed, it’s got worse”.

Mr Ward said on the night of the fatal stabbing he had been followed by carload of males, but luckily, he got to his car and drove off.

“I don’t normally hang around at Docklands at 1am,” he said after leaving his gym, “but it didn’t feel safe to me.”

He said clients had also reported incidents of fights on weekends, drug activity, and people yelling as they spilled onto Bourke St from nightclubs, bars, and other entertainment venues.

“It’s disastrous for them – we’re in a decline and it’s going to get worse.”

“I am shocked and disappointed no one in Docklands is jumping up and down about the safety/security issues in Docklands.”

A Victoria Police spokesperson said it ran Operation My City every Friday and Saturday night, to prevent anti-social behaviour and ensure safety for those enjoying Melbourne’s nightlife.

“Uniform police are regularly supported by PSOs, Public Order Response Team, Mounted Branch, Highway Patrol and the Dog Squad to run highly visible patrols and respond to any issues across the city.”

Crime Command Assistant Commissioner Bob Hill said the death of Mr Riak was “incredibly distressing for many in our community” and police would be “relentless in their pursuit” of holding perpetrators of such “violent and senseless crime” accountable.

“This is a great city and overwhelmingly a safe city, however incidents such as those we sadly saw … impact all of us,” he said.

Police have arrested five men in relation to the incident with two charged with murder. All have been remanded in custody after facing the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.

In a Facebook post, the John Septimus Roe Anglican Community School in Western Australia said Mr Riak was “a leader and a passionate sportsman who always had a basketball in his hands.”

“We are deeply saddened to know that a young man with such a bright future, has passed away under such tragic circumstances.”

Meanwhile, Melbourne-based Youth Activating Youth is preparing to launch the “Drop the Knife, Save a Life” project which will aim to steer young people away from offending and help them stay safe and on the right path •

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