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Saturday 4 January 2014

Oliver and Rosemarie Zammit on 'king-hits': "We have a really bad culture of violence."

And so, a new year and a new spate of... 'king-hits'? (There is a call to change this cowardly act to a 'coward's punch.' Read more below).

Really, is this still happening?

Sadly, it is, and it is only the families who are left behind who can ever really, truly know this kind of deep and gutting pain of losing a family member - and watching them fight for life - to this disturbing trend in street violence.

A couple who know that kind of pain is Oliver and Rosemarie Zammit, who lost their son Doujon Zammit on the Greek island of Mykonos in July 2008.

Doujon was only 20 and enjoying that rite of passage - his first trip overseas - when he lost his life after a despicable, horrible bashing in Mykonos. His attackers have since been arrested and jailed after a long and gut-wrenching court case in Greece, attended by Oliver and Rosemarie, and younger brothers Zeake and Laurent.

Photo: News Limited

At the time of the deadly assault, Doujon's grief-stricken father Oliver flew from Australia to be by his bedside, and decided to assign his beloved son’s heart, liver, pancreas and kidneys for life-saving surgery.

Sydney man Kosta Gribilas, 35 who saved by the Zammit family’s selfless organ donation, receiving Doujon's heart.

I spoke to Oliver and Rosemarie today - we are family friends and they are truly wonderful people - about life and the new year and our conversation turned to king-hits, Thomas Kelly, alcohol and what must happen next. They shared their thoughts with me for Josie's Juice. Their words are deeply moving, make complete sense, and are a must-read.

"What I believe, and I know to be true because of what we have been through, is that our future - and I am speaking about us, but I know it’s relevant in everyone’s life -  is determined by our reaction," says Rosemarie.

"So for us, had we dealt with our situation differently and been angry people the reaction and the outcome of everything that’s happened would have been different," adds Rosemarie.

"We’ve been embraced by the Greek people, we’ve met so many beautiful Greek people, and we’ve also met evil," says Rosemarie. "I had not met evil before… but I have now, I can say that. In that courtroom – these men were evil."

"Five and half years down the track, we still see people in Greece who stop us to shake our hand," says Oliver.

"Had we not dealt with everything in the way we did, we’d  be totally different people," continues Rosemarie. "So, I really value that your future is determined by your reaction to everything."

What do Rosemarie and Oliver make of the spate of king hits happening on Australian streets right now?

"We have a really bad culture of violence," says Oliver. "And unfortunately the clubs and bars being left open so late means people are drinking. A lot. And mixing that with drugs. It's a nightmare."

"And the fact that the sentencing for violent attacks that result is just so weak... I mean, the police do all the hard work of tracking the offender down and getting all the evidence, and arresting the person, and then... the judge gives Thomas Kelly’s killer four years?" says Oliver, incredulous.

"I mean, how do the parents feel?" asks Rosemarie, the passion in her eyes completely evident.

Says Oliver: "I’m sure if it was the judge’s son he would have got more…"

"So, does it take someone in power to lose a child for the situation to change, is that what it’s going to take?" asks Rosemarie. How can one argue with that? With someone who knows what this kind of pain feels like?

"Unfortunately, maybe so," she adds. "But what do you do? How do you fix it?

"We’ve got this thing about raising the maximum sentence. It’s not the maximum sentences we need to be raising… it’s the minimum sentence," states Oliver.

He continues: "Because, if you give out the maximum sentence - you give out the 20 or 25 years - that’s a decent punishment. But when they can drop the sentence from 25 years to four years… it’s a slap in the face for any parent."

"It’s an insult to a human life, isn’t it, really? adds Rosemarie.

"You can get more time for commiting a robbery or fraud!" exclaims Oliver, expressing what we're all thinking.

"It’s just sort of saying to the next guy that does it, oh, what are you gonna get – four years? It doesn’t matter. But if they’re going to be in jail for 20 years and it’s going to change their life and their lifestyle – because you’ve got to remember that these people only care about themselves - then yes, maybe they will stop and think about it," adds Rosemarie.

"If we were only giving them four years, it doesn’t deter anyone else, and we’ve got this stupid mentality that we can rehabilitate people," says Oliver. "We can’t rehabilitate people that have a violent nature. You’re not going to stop that," states Oliver. "Or, people that rape constantly… you’re not going to stop that, okay? And by giving them a lesser sentence they think – well, I only got four years for raping that lady so, what’s another four years?

"But if they’re getting 20 years to sit there and think about it, they’ll think twice about it… it’s the sentencing that is letting us down," says Oliver.

Sitting with these incredibly poised, passionate, beautiful people is humbling. I know them as my friends but the world now knows them as an example of living their lives in the face of unimaginable adversity with grace and humility and a renewed sense of purpose in their life.

Please, help change this mentality towards street violence and attacks by sigining this petition below. It's one step to change. And as the Zammits will tell you, every single act of kindness towards shifting this "bad culture of violence" mentality counts.

This is the newsletter received from change.org - please read:

Josie - There's a new petition taking off on Change.org, and we think you might be interested in signing it:

By Ralph Kelly
Sydney, NSW 2088

We’d prepared ourselves for this kind of news, but it still came as a shock.
On New Year’s Eve, in almost exactly the same spot in King’s Cross where our beloved son Tom was killed, another young man had fallen victim to the rage of alcohol-fueled violence.
A single punch. Another young man fighting for his life. Another family distraught and torn apart. When is this going to end?
Our hearts go out to the family of young Daniel Christie. No-one outside the family can really understand the pain they are going through right now.
Police allege that Daniel’s attacker had drunk eight beers and a glass of wine beforehand and that he was already on a good behaviour bond for assault.
Because someone has been charged, we can’t comment more on this particular case right now. But we know that something has to change. Too many lives are being taken from us. The toll is mounting, and the Government is far too slow to act.  
Just a few days after Kieran Loveridge was sentenced to a miserly four years jail for killing Tom, we started a petition at change.org/thomaskelly calling for minimum sentencing laws in cases of manslaughter.
More than 23,000 people have already signed our petition and we’ve had some encouraging signs from the Government.
And while we are still determined to see changes to minimum sentencing laws in cases of manslaughter, it’s clear that more needs to be done to tackle the spiralling issue of alcohol-fuelled violence.
In particular, we need laws that will send a strong message to young people and the community in general that alcohol abuse and excessive drinking should not serve as an excuse for violence. Right now, the law doesn’t do that.
Too often, criminals are using excessive drinking as an excuse for their behaviour.
We need to turn this around 180 degrees. The central plank of our new proposal to the NSW Government is to increase the penalties for any crime committed whilst affected by alcohol or drugs.
Recently, accompanied by leading Sydney lawyer Alexander Street SC, we met with Attorney-General Mr Greg Smith to propose three key areas of reform to the NSW Sentencing Act.
The three additions that we have proposed to the Attorney General - now reflected in our updated change.org/thomaskelly petition - are:
1. Any crimes committed whilst affected by alcohol or drugs are identified as a "mandatory aggravating factor" that must be taken into account on sentencing.
This will serve to send the right messaging of the primary role that alcohol plays in violence and crimes within NSW and require sentences to reflect this aggravating feature.
2. The aggravating factor of "conditional liberty" expanded to any "good behaviour bond".
This will tackle the issue of repeat offenders.
3. Youth and the inability of a victim to defend themselves as being aggravating factors that must be taken into account.
This would help stop attacks on the most defenceless and vulnerable in our society.
We have asked the NSW Government to incorporate these three key elements into the Act.   Importantly these additions would be incorporated within all areas of criminal activity, including domestic violence and sexual assault.
Right now, our sentencing laws are completely out of sync with public sentiment.  18 months ago we lost Tom. 3 days ago, another family’s boy was attacked. Until something changes, the only thing we can be sure of is that there will be more.
Social and behavioural change only occurs when we stand up as one and demand that change happens.
Now is that time.
Time to say that we’re fed up with the culture of excessive drinking.
Time to say that we’re fed up with violence on our streets, fuelled by rampant alcohol abuse.
Please sign our petition on change.org/thomaskelly and share it with friends and family. Together, we can do this.  Thank you.
Ralph and Kathy Kelly

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