It had all the hallmarks of a terrible tragedy.

A vulnerable mother attacked during a routine walk through a Melbourne park.

Her toddler snatched from her pram by a madman.

The toddler then found dead in a nearby creek.

All of Australia, including the team at Afritorial, reacted with shock. How could this happen? And in broad daylight? Who would perpetrate such a crime?

The media soon reported a full profile of the alleged assailant – one that had been furnished by the victim to the police.

The assailant was described as an African black man, between 20 and 30 years old and about six feet tall, who smelt strongly of alcohol and was not wearing shoes.

As a wide manhunt was conducted, more facts about Sofina Nikat, the mother of the 14-month-old girl, Sonaya Sahib, started to come to light.

Sofina’s uncle, Ali, told media that a week before the child’s death an ambulance was called to his Heidelberg West home, where the mother and daughter had been staying, because Sonaya suffered a seizure, Paramedics were worried it had been triggered through a lack of oxygen from smothering.

The mother had also reportedly been in contact with two men in the lead up to her daughter’s death. Both men were facing serious criminal charges, including family violence and assault.

As  investigations unfolded the mother’s story came to sound more implausible.

Three days after the incident, Sofina broke down, confessed and was charged with the murder of her daughter.

sofina nikat

(clockwise) Sofina Nikat – pushing the baby pram on the day of the murder,  Sofina and her baby Sonaya in happier times, Sofina hiding behind a copy of the Qaran after her arrest

A tragic tale indeed and we can only speculate as to the reasons for a young mother taking the life of her own innocent 14-month-old baby.

Sofina Nikat isn’t the first alleged killer accused of trying to blame a phantom black male.

Yohuru Williams, professor of history at Fairfield University noted, “Time and time again in tragedies like this, they conjure up images of the black boogeyman… It goes back to the period of Reconstruction, when African (sic) men were portrayed as bestial and dangerous.”

Across the western world, “a tall, poorly dressed, black man is one of the most popular descriptions used by criminals trying to shift the blame for their crimes onto someone else”, according to Africana Cultures and Policy Studies author, Zachery Williams.

“The “blame a black man” tactic is centred around exploiting negative stereotypes and prejudices in a bid to deflect suspicion and black men, whether incarcerated or free, innocent or guilty, must carry the stigma of ‘suspects’,” Zachary Williams explained.

In the days following Sonaya’s terrible death, there has been concerning silence from the Australian press, community leaders and government about Sofina’s ‘African assailant’ misidentification.

We, as members of the African community in Australia can hear that silence. The silence sounds like condonation.

By not speaking up and condemning such irresponsible accusations, the Australian leadership suggests that it’s okay to perpetrate stereotypes. That is simply not acceptable.

We support the police force and their efforts to combat crime. We wholeheartedly back the government and their efforts to unite Australia’s diverse communities.

After incidents such as Sofina’s, community leaders and organisations need to be  more proactive and instrumental in urging cultural sensitivity and calling out unacceptable behaviour where it’s manifested.

This is not the time to be complacent and to let our society work out its own moral code. We don’t doubt that Sofina’s accusations were the act of a rogue and guilty mind, but let’s not shrug our shoulders and dismiss the volumes that those accusations spoke against the African community.

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by Neva Mwiti-Read, Cynthia Malingu and Sifa Mtango-Zadarnowska 

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Sources:

http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/apr/10/missing-childs-body-found-in-melbourne-creek-police

http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/apr/11/uncle-of-a-toddler-found-dead-in-creek-says-her-unknown-killer-is-a-coward

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/8/20/ferguson-and-victimblaminganationalpastime.html

http://www.news.com.au/national/victoria/crime/post-mortem-reveals-sanaya-sahib-was-smothered/news-story/4d7b78ae97ee5fffd2f7e0d71e7fac98

http://www.news.com.au/national/crime/blame-a-black-man-tactic-commonly-used-by-crims-trying-to-shift-the-blame/news-story/f657a339631883bb929ce75805b0bf52

Image of Sofina Nikat via Daily Mail UK.

3 Responses

  1. Deborah

    It’s terrible, and I detest it.

    Question, though. It feels uncomfortable to read this when I am writing crime fiction and some of my suspects are black. But I guess the boundaries between fiction and reality must be observed. After all, there are white suspects in fiction and the entire white race is not assumed guilty of every single crime on the planet.

    Reply

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