According to National leader Simon Bridges we have a gang problem that he is vowing to crack down hard on. Fuelled by the recent violence in Tauranga where police have been fired at by people not stopping for a check point; by a double shooting; by shooting events witnessed by children, Mr Bridges has vowed to take action against gangs following these events. But as we shall see, the National party have a major flaw in their approach.
“Get tough on crime” is a common policy plank for conservative parties. It is applauded by the members and supporters of those parties because of the belief that it sends a signal to criminal elements, organized and individuals alike, that society will not tolerate gang behaviour. And we certainly should not. Gangs are intimidating with their presence. Their lifestyle is one of violence, crime, drugs and other legally and/or socially improper activities. To join a gang one has to do certain things – the patches earned by individual members are not simply awarded to anyone who wants to join.
But at this point I believe that I and a lot of other New Zealanders diverge from the path that National wants to take us down. And the reason for that is as simple as it is fundamental:
National are ignoring the causes of the gangs existence in the first place.
Why do gangs exist? This is a simple question, and a fundamentally important one, but the answer is not so simple. Many of the people in gangs come from broken homes. They never had role models in their lives, and education was not a priority. Love was non-existent. The phrase “learn right from wrong” was unheard of. At an early age they might have been involved with drugs and the illicit side activities that go with this.
But the broken homes that these people came from are not exclusively broken in the sense of nobody cares/bad parents. Some of them come from families where the parents are at work for long periods of time, left school early either because of costs or lack of support. Simple things like ensuring children get breakfast in the morning and have lunch to eat at school goes a surprisingly long way towards reducing disruption and making them want to stay in the education system.
Teenagers who make up a number of younger recruits are a vulnerable bunch when it comes to peer pressure. A teen might have mates who have connections and be wanting that teen to join them. At an early age they might already be getting exposed to weed, pornography, alcohol and other illegal or adult material.
I want to be clear that this is absolutely not attempting to say we should go kindly on gangs. It is not. I am saying that in order to understand why gangs are doing what they are doing, we must first understand the why. Why do gangs exist in New Zealand? Until that gets answered and addressed, you can forget about adequately tackling the gangs, their activities and dissuading those who might be tempted to join, from doing so.