From Mississippi to Melbourne, race continues to divide us

It’s been 63 years since 14-year-old African American Emmett Till was murdered by two white men in the US state of Mississippi. 

It’s been 11 years since Sudanese-Australian Liep Gony was beaten to death with a metal pole by two white men at Noble Park train station in Melbourne’s south-east.

Despite the time and distance, the two cases strike a tragically similar chord.

For Till, his death would prove a catalyst for the growth of America’s civil rights movement. Originally from Chicago, Till had travelled to Money, Mississippi in order to visit family. There, Till would run afoul of white locals and Jim Crow-era American South idealism, finding himself accused of flirting with or whistling at 21-year old white woman Carolyn Bryant. As a result, several nights later, Bryant’s husband Roy Bryant and step-brother J.W. Milam abducted Till from the home of his great uncle.

From there, these two older men brutally beat and mutilated the 14-year-old before shooting him in the head and dumping his body in the nearby Tallahatchie River. The image of Till’s bloated, mutilated body laying in his open casket is strikingly disturbing.


Bryant and Milam were charged with murder but an all-white jury acquitted them. Due to double jeopardy laws, the men would never face legal ramifications despite admitting their roles in the kidnapping and murder.

Still, the horrors and injustices surrounding Till’s death would resonate greatly throughout America, spurring on the civil rights movement through the late 1950s and 1960s.

Over 52 years later and 15,000 kilometres away, two white men left the suburban Melbourne home they were being evicted from armed with a metal pole.

“These blacks are turning the town into the Bronx. I am looking to take my town back,” one of the men, Clinton Rintoull, is reported to have said to a neighbour. 

“I’m going to kill the blacks.”

This was after Rintoull had spray painted the home he had shared with friends with graffiti, including messages like ‘Fuck da niggas’.

The same night, Rintoull and co-accused Dylan Sabatino would encounter 19-year old Sudanese-Australian Liep Gony at Noble Park train station. There, the two men brutally beat Gony with the metal pole, fracturing his skull before leaving him for dead.

“I bashed a n—– and I think he’s dead,” Rintoull allegedly said.

Still, when sentencing Rintoull and Sabatino, Justice Elizabeth Curtain claimed that she was not satisfied that the fatal attack on Gony was racially motivated. Curtain referenced a reported incident three days before the attack on Gony where Rintoull was reported to have made sandwiches for a homeless African man who had been living in a derelict property in Noble Park.

Curtain also acknowledged an incident three days prior to Gony’s death where Rintoull had reportedly been involved in an altercation with a group of Sudanese youths at the same train station in Noble Park.

Rintoull reportedly called 000 for assistance following the altercation, alleging that he had nearly been stabbed and is reported to have later said that if police would not do anything about the ‘attack’, he would take matters in to his own hands.

Justice Curtain referenced this in her statements, suggesting that Rintoull had been driven by “a sense of anger and frustration” and a belief that violence involving groups of youths at Noble Park train station was growing out of control.

Rintoull would later be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years imprisonment after pleading guilty to murder, with a minimum term of 16 years. His co-accused, Sabatino, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a maximum term of 10 years with a minimum six to serve.

While it may not rise to the level of injustice as the full acquittal Till’s murderers received in 1955, the light sentencing of Rintoull and Sabatino for the death of Liep Gony in 2007 draws parallels to the case of Emmett Till nonetheless. Despite describing the attack on Gony as “vicious, brutal and unprovoked”, Curtain’s suggested that Rintoull’s altercation with a group of youths three days earlier in some way supported the idea that Gony’s attack had not been racially motivated.  

In essence, the ‘racial panic’ defence had found a new home in Melbourne’s Supreme Court.

Eleven years on, the pain of losing Liep to such a horrific act is still as profoundly traumatic for his loved ones as ever before, as family and friends recently gathered on the steps of Melbourne’s Parliament Building to remember him.

“He was somebody who changed everybody around him,” said Liep’s cousin Nyawech Fouch. “He brought joy, happiness and peace to everybody.”

“I want all of you to understand the issue why my cousin was murdered was because of racism.”

“I don’t want to beat around the bush anymore and I don’t want to have to prove to people that I deserve life or [that] any other black person deserves to live.”

Moments later, the trauma and pain of Liep’s loss became frighteningly evident, as Nyawech would collapse on the steps of parliament in a fit of screaming and crying.

“It’s still going to happen to another child,” she said,  between sobs. “Racism is never going to end.”

As the panicked youth was led away by family members, speeches continued on to honour Liep’s life and speak of his tragic passing. 

The timing of this latest public remembrance of Liep Gony’s passing is notable. Earlier this year, Federal Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton suggested Victorians were “scared to go out to restaurants” because of “African gang violence”.

Then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull would also contribute to the growing hysterics, stating in July that “you would have to be walking around with your hands over your ears” not to hear “real concerns” about Sudanese gangs in Melbourne.

“I am not saying that some things done by the kids [of our community] aren’t horrible,” said Liep’s mother, Martha Ojulo. “I know that they’ve broken into homes, I know that they hurt people.” 

“But I also know this is much more complicated than what we’ve seen in the media.”

Indeed, eleven years on from Liep Gony’s death, and 63 years on from Emmett Till’s death in 1955, it is certainly far more complicated than what has been seen in the media. As politicians such as Pauline Hanson and Bob Katter build platforms on race-based hysteria, names such as Till and Gony continue to be lost in the noise. 

It all begs the question: In 2018, is it still a crime to be black?