Mother of Aboriginal man injured in apparent vigilante attack condemns Facebook abuse

Kathy Penny calls on social media companies to put a stop to ‘hatred and revenge’ following comments about her son

A Noongar woman whose teenage son was seriously injured in an apparent vigilante attack says she has been threatened and abused online, but has urged supporters not to retaliate.

Kathy Penny’s 18-year-old son, Ronaldo, was left in a critical condition when a 49-year-old woman chased him and his friend through Perth’s northern suburbs after it was alleged they had stolen a motorcycle. The woman has pleaded guilty to charges of driving dangerously and causing aggravated grievous bodily harm.

“He was in a coma for six days, with swelling on the brain and bleeding, with a fractured skull and broken femur,” Penny said.

“His injuries are still going to be there permanently, he’s going to be limited for the rest of his life.”

Ronaldo has been charged with a number of offences including aggravated burglary and stealing offences. He appeared in court last month and has been remanded to Hakea prison.

His 17-year-old friend has also been charged in relation to the incident.

Penny said the abuse on social media was “just hatred and revenge”.

“They’re just saying really nasty things. Like he should have died, it was good what happened to him, he deserved it.

“Facebook and the social media companies need to put a stop to that … There’s over 200 comments. They shouldn’t be allowed to say those kinds of things about somebody else’s son.”

Last week Guardian Australia reported that a WA community Facebook group with tens of thousands of members had hosted threatening comments that Aboriginal people in Perth said fostered a climate in which vigilante violence was accepted.

Screenshot from of conversation from WA community Facebook group

Facebook’s parent company, Meta, said in a statement none of the comments highlighted in the report would be removed.

“We reviewed the content links shared across and they did not breach our community standards,” the statement said.

Penny said no one should break the law, including her son and his friend, but the same applied to the woman who chased them.

“It’s against the law,” Penny said. “Two wrongs don’t make a right, but she did not have the right to do what she did.”

Penny said she had forgiven the woman and would not respond to online threats or remarks in support of vigilantism.

“If we retaliated, three wrongs wouldn’t make a right, so we just have to wait and hopefully justice will prevail. I forgive her but I can’t forget what happened.”

The incident prompted WA’s police commissioner, Col Blanch, to warn people against taking matters into their own hands.

“We’ve seen it many, many times, people taking chase of offenders when they’ve witnessed a crime,” Blanch was quoted as saying in WA Today.

“It can end in tragedy for yourself, other members of the community or the person that you might be chasing.”

Perth parents say hostility and violence towards young Aboriginal people accused of being involved in crime is being fuelled by racist comments in Facebook community groups.

Verna Anderson, one of Penny’s daughters, said Aboriginal children, including her 14-year-old brother, had been chased and threatened while simply walking the suburban streets.

“This was just a couple of days ago ... When a white van started following them and came to the park with them. So they all started hiding behind bushes and he got out of the car and he started shouting out at them,” she said.

She believed attacks and anti-social behaviour were becoming more common in Perth’s suburbs.

“It’s becoming an everyday thing, even I have been chased and harassed.”

She said people on social media were becoming emboldened to suspect young people of criminal activities without any evidence.

“I think they think that no one’s going to do anything. They’re just going to get away with it. Because we’re Black,” Anderson said.

Concerns were raised recently at a meeting between Aboriginal community elders and Blanch and other senior officers.

Donna Nelson, who works with children and runs a community basketball program, said young people and their families were afraid.

“The community is feeling unsafe. Parents are certainly feeling unsafe. Aboriginal people are becoming very concerned about what potentially this could lead to if appropriate action isn’t taken.

“People are more worried about their property. I’m not saying that we condone wrongdoing in any way. But it is about people taking it in their own hands as opposed to following what should be proper protocols.

“Respect is just not being given to our kids and violence is constantly perpetrated on our children.”


Sarah Collard

The GuardianTramp