ABOVE: Police sergeant Tori Turner at the community meeting in Coraki. Photo: Susanna Freymark
STORY by Susanna Freymark
Rebecca and Shannon McCorriston had reached breaking point.
The front window of their Gypsy’s cafe was smashed – twice.
Shannon had been threatened by “two fellas with knives demanding money”.
Their elderly neighbours had been broken into twice.
So, Rebecca posted on Facebook yesterday, Wednesday, August 17, calling for a community meeting to talk about the rise of crime in Coraki.
Four hours later, 35 residents and three police were at the riverfront cafe.
Shannon was the first to speak.
“We have a youth problem,” he said.
“I’m not a quitter. I’m heartbroken.”
He was clearly upset.
“This is youth. I need videos. All I’m asking is everyone pass shit (videos of crime) on to me. We can’t do nothing with only one of us putting their hand up.
“These kids throw rocks at houses, one had a machete, one had a golf club.”
Others in the crowd started shouting.
Police sergeant Tori Turner tried to reply.
Shannon was angry. He pointed to the police standing at the end of the long table of disgruntled residents.
“These guys aren’t doing anything,” he said.
“This town is not happy,” someone called out.
Sergeant Turner tried to explain over the loud voices, “We’re dealing with juveniles.
“We’re not the local cops but we’ve spoken to local cops.”
Some in the crowd jeered.
Sergeant Turner and the two police with her were from Ballina.
“We need evidence. If you get videos, give us the videos,” the sergeant said.
“If we have evidence we can lock these kids up. One today was locked up and refused bail. We rely on forensic evidence.”
Sergeant Turner’s explanation didn’t go down well with the group who had had enough of cars being stolen and homes being broken into.
The gang of five alleged culprits were now carrying weapons
Residents threatened to take matters into their own hands.
“How come when we call you, you don’t come?” Shannon said.
One man stood up and shouted, “We have crime here every night.”
One woman said her son was bailed up by three youths with knives.
“One of our children will be dead soon,” she said.
She wanted the police to monitor the bus stop after school.
“I’ve had enough. I’ve got videos of them throwing glass and rocks,” she said.
“No police turned up.”
“There will be blood,” another woman said.
It was a tense gathering with constant shouting over one another.
The elderly had been targeted for months.
Many people said crime had spiked dramatically since the floods.
Everyone knew the teenagers who were causing the problems, the police knew and the locals were fed up with nothing being done.
Many were afraid to speak out or to take videos for fear of reprisals from the youth.
An elderly woman stood.
She spoke softly, “These kids are targeting places where women live alone”.
“Someone is going to die,” she said, almost in a whisper.
Coraki is a town in crisis.
There were calls for more foot patrols, for a greater police presence at night.
“Do you want me on the street with a baseball bat?” Shannon said.
Sergeant Turner seemed as frustrated as the residents.
“We have an extra car in Coraki at night,” she said.
The frustration for the police was when they arrested a youth, the magistrate let them go.
“We’ve advised DOCs,” Sergeant Turner said.
Her responses weren’t appeasing the crowd.
“Give us the names and we will target those names,” she said.
There was mention of the phone tree that was set up so anyone being harassed could call someone for help.
Someone said to talk to elders, to the mother – others said all this had been tried and nothing had changed.
“People are talking about burning houses down,” another local said.
Sergeant Turner urged residents to write to their local member asking for more police.
Someone talked about setting up a men’s shed for the community.
By the end of the meeting, people had broken into groups and police were talking to each group.
The anger had subsided but the frustration hadn’t.
A petition calling for something to be done is at the Coraki Hub and can be signed there. This petition will be sent to State MP Chris Gulaptis.
“There are about 1200 people in Coraki,” a young man said, “we need everyone to sign the petition.”
Rebecca and Shannon’s time in Coraki is coming to an end. They will close the cafe they have run for two years and are looking for new premises in Evans Head.
It was too much and they are leaving.
Those remaining in Coraki still have to find a way to feel safe in their own homes.
Was a greater police presence enough?
Could more community activities help?
Something has to change in Coraki.
“It’s not going to change overnight,” Sergeant Turner said.
But change it must.