Aggressive police or more volatile protests? You be the judge


New Zealand Police operating costs attending protests are mounting.

Peace Action say it is troubling that the Police act as a “taxpayer funded security service” for big business. Police for their part say their actions are proportionate and totally legitimate.

The distrust I suspect is mutual. Many of the organizations that participate in such protests have always viewed Government force – be it through the Police, military or other armed means – with distrust and this dates back to the days of World War 1 and World War 2 when there were dissenters who were arrested. They would sometimes wind up overseas performing non combat roles such as building roads or being a cook or a doctor.

New Zealand Police in reality are for the most part one of the more tolerant police forces in the west. And compared with those in third world countries, almost squeaky clean. All Police forces will have instances where they get the balance between enforcing the as opposed to being outright thugs wrong. It is down to whether or not the the force is willing to learn from its mistakes, make appropriate changes and give effect to them before something worse happens.

It is also true that an individual has a right to attend the event where the protests are happening – whilst I disagree with the apparent need for an armaments conference here, to step on another individual’s equal right to attend is not something I would condone or want to see New Zealand and New Zealanders condoning.

Action Networks (Coal Action Network, Peace Action Network among others) are among the more likely groups to have members arrested. Their stunts are often eye catching, but have problematic characteristics such as damage to property; trespassing on land that they did not have permission to be on. The extent to which one participates in such progress is up to the individual, but it is worthy noting as example the arrest of former Xena: Warrior Princeess actress Lucy Lawless for being illegally on a Shell Todd Oil Services oil drilling ship that was in port at New Plymouth. She was prosecuted and convicted, being made to pay a fine of $600+.

On the flip side of the coin, peaceful activism is an incredibly powerful phenomena and one that should be totally endorsed as a means of righting a wrong. The power of it is shown in the response of some – instead of accepting the message that change is needed, there are powerful elements who prefer to shut down any movement seeking changes in their conduct.

One need look no further than Amnesty International to see a large organization that can use its considerable membership in a peaceful manner to effect significant change. Amnesty International activism can range from peaceful public protests outside Government offices and businesses, to letter writing. Its appeal lies in the vast range of ages, nationalities, backgrounds and cultures. From ending torture and the death penalty to advocating for refugees and prisoners of conscience, the organization has grown a reputation for credible research conducted by on the ground researchers, not from some office in a far away country

Social campaigning has also evolved with the development of advocacy platforms such as New Zealand’s Action Station and overseas ones such as Change, Sum of Us and others. These tend to pick a few major campaigns and pour their significant resources into them – the Bees and insecticides being one by Change; fresh water resources being one run by Action Station.

For some the allure of being seen protesting outside such events as the armaments conference in Wellington, shutting down the motorway during the Trans Pacific Partnership signing ceremony in Auckland will always appear more attractive than peaceful activism along the lines of Amnesty International. But with the allure comes risk – is the activity going to cause major disruption, put people in danger and/or warrant a strong Police response?

I say: happy protesting – make it loud and bright, but keep it non disruptive and be thankful it is the New Zealand Police you are dealing with and not that of a less tolerant state.

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