Why I attended the Black Lives Matter rally

On Monday 01 June 2020 I attended the Black Lives Matter rally for the late George Floyd in Cathedral Square, Christchurch. The protest attracted about 500-700 people by my estimate and happened on the Queens Birthday holiday. Since then I have received significant criticism for attending the protest in light of the COVID19 laws. I explain what I was doing there in this article.

Fortunately very little if any of the criticism has been about the cause of the protest. But just in case anyone does decide to criticize the very cause of the protests even being considered, I will make my stance clear after explaining the protest.

I am an activist. I am also a law abiding citizen – 99% of the time. The 99% of the time being laws on very rare occasions are going to be broken because they are obsolete. You might say that this is no justification for going to the rally. But are you the same people telling Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern that the COVID19 level is out of date? Possibly.

Lets be honest. If this had been at Level 3 and even 20 people had showed up, there is no way I would have gone. Because at Level 3 COVID19 was very much a live firing thing. It was presenting new cases daily. It was killing people. It was putting people in hospital. I went to a rally on an island with NO COVID19 cases at all. If any COVID19 cases were known to exist in the South Island, I most probably would not have gone.

And here is where the problem is. Sometimes the law simply cannot and does not keep up. The processes that need to happen before it can be amended are simply too slow, too unwieldy. Had these riots been going for an extra week longer, I would have expected that the Prime Minister would have become aware of protest action plans and been able try to speak in a way the protesters would have understood, and maybe try to explain or set down a position that might have made the protesters think twice. But three factors seen as a combination I think took matters into the unknown:

  • The American police doing such an A+ job of screwing up their response for consecutive days, a combination of anger;
  • the speed with which things were unravelling; and
  • the fact that New Zealand had a statutory holiday weekend in progress

Is a protest of more than 100 people in actually in breach of the law, when everyone – at least up until it reached 200 people – is kept at the 2 metre distancing recommended actually a gathering? If so, then perhaps one could argue some shopping centres, another focal point where there is a certainty of large numbers of people being in potentially close proximity, should not have been open.

On 22 May 2020 an African-American named George Floyd was stopped by a Minneapolis police patrol. At some point in the incident that has triggered the worst violence in the United States since the 1992 Los Angeles riots which were triggered by the same issue which I will deal with later in this article, he presented what I understand was a counterfeit note. The officers made him get out of his car. They forced him to the ground at which point officer Derek Chauvin knelt down on Mr Floyd’s neck. Mr Floyd began struggling to breathe and can be heard over and over saying he cannot breathe. He was taken to hospital but died from injuries caused by the officer’s knee being on his neck, which the autopsy results released today said were consistent with a homicide.

Let us get this straight now. I do not endorse the rioting, the violence or any killings that have happened. Protesters are one group. Looters are entirely another group, who function as opportunistic individuals who know that they probably have a good chance of getting away with what they have done because the police are distracted by the protesters – who for the very most part, are the lesser of the two problems. The looters were never there for the protests. They were never there for George Floyd or for anyone who died before him whose death led to events such as what we are witnessing now. Let us get that clear now.

If you think police brutality is an overseas thing and cannot happen in New Zealand, you are wrong. It can, it does and here are some disturbing statistics from Action Station to back it up. This was also an #ArmsDownNZ protest to make sure people are aware that there is fundamental break down between New Zealand Police and Maori and Pasifika communities. About those statistics:

  • In a survey on the Armed Police trial, 1,155 Maori and Pasifika people took part
  • 85% of them did not support the Armed Police trial
  • 87% of them said they felt unsafe and intimidated when they see armed police
  • 91% of them said that they would not call the police in an emergency

So in other words out of those 1,155 at least 1,051 of them would not call the police in an emergency. And we wonder why crime rates among these two ethnic groups are disproportionately high in New Zealand. Stop and think about that for a minute. We have a problem even Minister of Police Stuart Nash is too scared to say so out loud.

So, that is what happened. A fast moving flash of the pan type protest whose speed and size I don’t think anyone on Friday, or even Saturday afternoon could have honestly told you would go like this. Didn’t say it was necessarily right, but this is what happened. Live with it.

Todd Muller like Coyote after catching Road Runner: What do I do with it

There is a clip on Youtube of the Coyote after catching the Road Runner.

After all those failures to catch him, the Coyote finally catches the Road Runner. All those many zany attempts have finally come to fruition: from throwing grenades at the Road Runner only for a cacti to catch it and fling it back; from rocket propulsion hoping to catch up only to run into a cliff; the Coyote finally gets his hands (paws?) on the elusive, seemingly unstoppable Road Runner.

But the Coyote has a problem, and one that one might have thought he would have had plenty of time to figure out: if I catch Road Runner what happens next?

Of course, being a children’s programme, the good guy has to get away. But what about in real life?

It would seem that the new National Party leader Todd Muller has the same problem. After all that time strategizing against former leader Simon Bridges, who must be feeling somewhat vindicated at the moment, having secured the prize of Leader of the Opposition, Mr Muller seems to have no idea what to do next.

This, is frankly gobsmacking. After all this time, when he could have been working on a suite of new policies that would bolster the centre-right, and take back some of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s momentum, Mr Muller is no closer to telling us how he intends to lead the country, than – as far as I am concerned – the day he was elected to Parliament.

And there seems to be parallel’s with over seas leaders in this regard as well. Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had a similar problem. After being elected Prime Minister, the Member for Warringah, perhaps best remembered for his budgie briefs, misogynistic attacks on former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and outright denial of climate science, had no idea about how he was going to lead Australia. And thus began several years of internal strife in the Australian Liberal Party that would see Mr Abbott knifed by fellow Liberal Malcolm Turnbull in a desperate attempt to avoid a one term Government. Mr Turnbull would then go on to be knifed after an increasingly ugly feud by current Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Mr Muller needs to do three things quickly and he needs to be decisive about them:

  1. Come up with said suite of new policies to revitalize the National Party caucus and grass roots quickly
  2. Clear up what kind of leadership style he wants to take on – will he seek to reassure the public about his social conservatism or will he try to appeal to the more conservative wing of the National Party
  3. Will he learn to read the room and note the mood of the public, or be tone deaf like A.C.T.

Given the mood of the public over COVID19, Black Lives Matter in the United States and the fact that he is dealing with one of the most popular Prime Ministers of all time in New Zealand, Mr Muller has quite the task ahead of him. Mt Jacinda looms large in the distance.


Labour looking good – for a non-Labour voter

I have not voted Labour since 1999. In 2002, 2005 I voted for New Zealand First. In 2008 as a protest vote for their Deputy Leader Peter Brown saying there are too many Asians in New Zealand I voted for United Future.

So, why does a non-Labour voter like the party so much now?

Labour are not perfect. But as a centrist voter there is nothing in the least to like about National at the moment and they are a party I am philosophically opposed to anyway, so even if they did come up with some good policy – something I cannot see happening anytime soon under Todd Muller – I would have a hard time convincing myself to support them. For that to happen, they would need to renounce neoliberalism.

And A.C.T. is a flat out no. Their entire philosophical standpoint, their attitude towards women, minorities and Maori; the environment, human rights and our place in the world is contrary to everything I stand for.

So are the Greens. Whilst I agree with them on the need to get more trains and that humankind’s environmental trajectory is not sustainable in any form, some of their social policies are flat out whack. And I think they made a mistake getting Marama Davidson to co-lead. And I have a use for a functional New Zealand Defence Force, which they do not.

So how do I justify Labour on these grounds? There are several policies that they are putting forward, or have hinted they will look favourably at, that I like. Their introduction of a National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity is a major step forward for housing. Treasurer Grant Robertson has very wisely kept billions of dollars up his sleeve in case of a second fiscal rainy day in 2021, recognizing COVID19 might not be finished. Although I do not know whether it will happen, there were rumblings along the lines of Minister of Health possibly completely overhauling or ditching the District Health Board funding model. This needs to happen as it will save hundreds of millions of dollars per annum.

But there is another reason too. Contrary to what you hear in the media, Labour actually have some competent Ministers in Minister of Education Chris Hipkins, Minister of Energy and Resources Megan Woods and Attorney General/Minister for Environment David Parker. Mr Robertson is doing a competent job with the finances. If Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni would hurry up with figuring out what to do with Work and Income New Zealand and the fundamental culture bomb they have, she could get an up tick in confidence too.

But their greatest asset is hands down Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Her leadership has been spectacular, and her compassion following the terrorist attack and the Whakaari eruption was amazing. Has she made mistakes? Yes. David Parker should have lost his Health portfolio by now.

But all up, I could be voting Labour for the first time in 21 years, assuming three things:

  1. They do not make a monumental stuff up between now and the election
  2. New Zealand First do not overcome years of lethargy and suddenly sort out years of infighting
  3. New Zealand First hang on to Shane Jones

Why I am grateful for the New Zealand Police

Over the last 72 hours I have watched coverage of the death of a black American named Floyd George, who was arrested in Minneapolis and pinned to the ground by an officer who placed a knee on his neck. Mr George lost consciousness and later died in hospital. Widespread outrage at the latest example of police violence in the United States, which has led to business premises being torched in Minneapolis and reports of disturbances in Los Angeles, have reminded me why I am extremely grateful that I live in New Zealand.

Whilst the vast majority of American police officers are probably honourable men and women who just want to protect their communities as best as they can, the American police force at all levels has several major ingrained problems:

  • It is trigger happy
  • The militarization of the force

There is no doubt that the U.S. police force have a lower threshold for the use of firearms than in New Zealand. Nor is there any doubt that the tendency to shoot first and ask question’s later has had some bad outcomes. An Australian lady was shot dead when Police arrived to respond to a suspected rape that she had just reported. In another case, Eric Garner was shot dead by an officer later found guilty of murder.

In recent years, the U.S. police force has been given access to armoured personnel carriers, sniper rifles and other equipment generally reserved for military use only. The militarized nature of the equipment and its deployment in places with large black populations following controversial police actions, has caused significant tensions in recent years.

Is this to say though, that the New Zealand Police are perfect? Of course not. They have had their moments when they have done things that have had significant fallout.

I am reminded of two big failures in 2007 that elicited substantial negative public reaction around the country and reminded the Police that they needed to lift their game. One was the case of police officers who allegedly raped a lady named Louise Nicholas. Ms Nicholas was a young adult when three Police officers allegedly went to her house for non-consensual sexual intercourse. Whilst they were acquitted, it brought significant light onto several corrupt officers who were fired, and one jailed for obstruction of justice.

The other big failure of the Police was in 2007 when in testing the counter terrorism suppression laws, raids were conducted around New Zealand. They were response to an alleged paramilitary camp that was supposedly training individuals for an Irish Republican Army type guerilla war to form an independent Tuhoe nation based on ancestral Maori land in the Urewera mountains. These acts were in numerous cases found to have breached peoples civil rights and there was a significant uproar about it. In Christchurch I knew of activists who were at home studying for university exams when Police turned up demanding to search their flat, looking for a man who had been invited to attend the paramilitary camp. They asked to see the warrant and when none was produced, were told to leave. In the North Island, raids occurred around Ruatoki, near the Urewera’s, with 17 arrests. Most went free after it was found the charges were inadmissible.

At the other end of the scale, respect across the country mushroomed in light of the 2019 terrorist attack on mosques in Christchurch, where 51 people were murdered.  On that day Police responded to the attacks within six minutes and were able to apprehend the suspect, who pleaded guilty to all charges earlier this year. Two police officers rammed his car as he drove to a third mosque with the intention of attacking it. Further adding to the respect was the enormous compassion and sensitivity that they displayed towards the victims of the attack.

People on social media sometimes accuse the Police of having a vendetta against them. I have to ask what their background was. Did at some point in the past they have an interaction with the Police caused by them doing something they should not have? Maybe the Police response was over the top – I certainly know of cases where this has happened, but did the complainants ever take their complaints to the Independent Police Complaints Authority, and if so, what did the I.P.C.A. say?

On occasion we hear of Police officers being rude when first. The very vast majority of them are polite and considerate, but one needs to remember that they might have just come from having to deal with someone who resisted arrest or had to break up a domestic assault case.

So, as we watch the growing violence following the death of Floyd George, we here in New Zealand can be very grateful for the restraint and compassion that our force displays.

Winston Peters wants Level 1 now – Not so fast Winston

It has been revealed that New Zealand First leader Winston Peters wants New Zealand to go to Level 1 now. Mr Peters, who believes we have been at Level 2 for too long, said that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitted at a Cabinet Meeting that she thought we need to get to Level 1 as quickly as possible.

Not so fast Mr Peters. Whilst it is true that at the time of sending this to publish, there had been no new cases for 5 consecutive days, New Zealand needs to 28 consecutive days of no new cases to completely break all transmission. After 28 days with no new cases, two full incubation cycles will have passed. After 28 days if the current run continues, there should also be no active cases left in New Zealand.

Then we can move to Level 1. And I would fully expect to do so at that point. I understand the desire to get out of Level 1 quickly, but COVID19’s tail is still thrashing around. There are still 22 live cases that need to be fully recovered before we can move along from running at 2/3 speed.

At Level 1 COVID19 will be like a bad storm disappearing into the distance, and people can get on with cleaning up the mess it left behind – all the while hoping that when the borders reopen a second storm does not come marching in and put all the hard done recovery work back to square one. New Zealand will need to have a much more robust quarantine system in place than the one currently in use to protect the country from those who are coming from jurisdictions where COVID19 has not been so well managed.

We will need to work closely with Australia and our Pasifika neighbours whose weak health systems cannot sustain the level of care that COVID19 hospital patients require. So it was welcome news yesterday to hear that $37 million has been allocated to supporting research for a vaccine and to help ensure that our Pasifika neighbours do not miss out because of nationalist politics in larger countries.

For myself personally, Level 2 still seems like Level 2.5 despite the easing of restrictions. My work requires cars to be sanitized before they are handed over to customers. Our staff room still observes social distancing and higher level sanitization requirements. We bring our own cutlery and glasses. I still observe the distancing where possible in public.

At Level 1, with COVID19 hopefully permanently consigned to the history books, we can overhaul hygiene legislation with the hindsight gained from from nine weeks of lock down. Among the changes I want to see are:

  • Requiring all people entering bars, restaurants, cafes and eateries to sanitize their hands
  • Require inspectors to check the availability of sanitizer stations as part of their (re)licencing of premises
  • Suspend licences for any premises that are non-compliant; cancel licences for any premises that do not meet requirements when the second check happens