New Zealand 25 years on from “Once Were Warriors”


25 years ago a movie exploded on to New Zealand theatre screens. Audiences were shaken, stirred, angered, horrified at what they had just seen. A – within its R-16 censorship rating – cold hard look at something New Zealand had been sweeping under the rug: the dreadful toll of domestic violence on our communities, our families/whanau and ourselves. Once Were Warriors, based on the book of the same name by Alan Duff, shone a light onto things and into places in New Zealand society that people did not want to talk about. 25 years later, what has changed?

To understand the problem we should look at the movie itself, first. It centres around a dysfunctional Maori family whose male head is hopelessly lost – not so much wilfully but perhaps having never known any other way. Handsome, muscular but dangerously prone to violence, which is all too frequently inflicted on his wife, his sons and daughter. Slowly Beth Heke is realising that Jake is too dangerous for her and her family and they need to get out, but not before his eldest son Nig becomes a patched gang member and daughter Grace is raped by an uncle. She commits suicide. One day Beth finds her diary and starts reading through it, then she happens on a page where Grace mentions being raped. The movie ends with Beth and Nig confronting Jake in a pub with his drinking mates including Uncle Bully.

25 years later some things have changed for the better, but all who are working towards ending domestic violence and the effects it has on society know there is a long long way to go. Sexual violence, addiction and domestic violence have not changed much. Whereas then it was almost taboo to grumble about sexual violence, it is becoming more acceptable to make a stand, but not without the real risk of being ostracized by supposed friends and family. Whereas alcohol was probably the substance of addiction in 1994, it is more likely now to be methamphetamine or synthetic cannabis.

In 1994 many people would say “harden up” or “get a divorce, Ma’am”, movements such as White Ribbon Day have brought an annual focus with Defence Force and emergency service personnel turning out. Law changes on the books now make strangulation an offence and police have better training and resources for dealing with such violence. Calls for people who have suffered domestic violence to be allowed time off work to get their lives in order are also happening. Most recently recognizing that pets may be the subject of abuse when victims have walked away from dangerous situations, a pet refuge programme has been established to take pets that cannot be taken by families fleeing.

But unless we address how men come to be bullies, dysfunctional people who only know violence, we will not address the causes of domestic violence in full. Unless we look at the broken homes, the lack of male role models and support for those who have learned right from wrong there will still be the Jake Heke’s who know no other way; the Beth Heke’s who find themselves trapped by powerful figure, but know they need to leave. Tragically there will also be the Grace Heke’s who find themselves propping up the sexual violence statistics and the Nig’s who join a gang. We can avoid this, and 25 years later one would have hoped that significant progress would have been made at the least. But all of the statistics suggest that there is a long way to go before Rena Owen can say that her character Beth Heke has done her job.

 

A question of justice


I have a question for you all. The question is one that has been bugging me for some time, but which in recent months has become more immediate, more urgent. It is a question of justice.

Over the last few years I have become increasingly frustrated with the New Zealand justice system as I am sure many others have too. Our reasons for our frustration will be many and varied, but deep down they all point to the same problems:

  • a failure of the courts to hand down sufficiently grave sentences
  • a lack of acceptance of what they have done
  • a failure to prepare those soon to be released for the post jail world – if they have no money or housing to go to, a potential life of crime await

My frustration stems from watching the rising tide of people who think that Police chases are games. They are not and every time someone is killed or injured because they ran away from a police check point, the Police have to be able to explain what went on to their superiors. But not only that, they have to explain it to the family(ies) of the deceased/injured as well.

The frustration, when I try to boil it down to its basic points stems from two separate issues. One is that there does not seem to be a working deterrent to the problem – i.e. something that would stop or discourage people from running before they even considered it, namely a short period of guaranteed jail time of say 48 hours to see how the offender reacts. To many the New Zealand justice system’s ability and willingness to dispense satisfactorily strong sentences is a joke and those handed down are viewed as being slapped with a wet bus ticket.

But it is not just car chases that make me wonder what the problem in the justice system is. How much crime is driven by socio-economic issues? My guess would be quite a bit. From a very early age, way back when a boy is young and just starting to learn about the world and society around him, too many are missing the adult male role model in their lives and the huge difference having a real male role model can have. If or when the boy is subject to bullying will he decide to fight back and possibly suffer disciplinary action that sets in motion a downward spiral or will he have second thoughts?

Maybe it stems from poverty and not going to school on a full stomach, thereby becoming disruptive in class, because the “second brain” of the body is not having due attention paid to it. Maybe it stems from a lack of love at home with no one being at home when a student gets home from school and so they go out and fall in with the wrong crowd. The brain in ones head is the academic one, but a persons stomach in some respects acts as a emotional brain. Between them they determine what might be described as emotional intelligence.

Maybe, as the case I am about to describe, is simply one of no boundaries being set from an early age and now had that aforementioned feeling of being bullet proof. A 13 year old dying in a crash caused by trying to flee the police was one whose caregiver had described as being out of control.

But, okay, lets assume a person does go to jail and do their time in full. They come out genuinely remorseful and admit to the past offences at job interviews, and then cannot get a job because no one will hire someone with a criminal record. Meanwhile the recently released prisoner has to feed, clothe and do all the other things a person needs to do to live, but cannot find the money to fund it all.

And so, the man who had turned his life around, and owned up to his past is now being denied the means to move forward in life and get away from his negative influences. Thus begins a cycle that I suspect is being played out all too frequently among our former jail bird population.

So, what do we do about this?

Cannabis reform coming – But is it enough?


Reform of the laws around the use of cannabis is coming to New Zealand. Minister of Justice Andrew Little has announced there will be a referendum in which people will be asked a simple yes/no question about the legalization of cannabis in New Zealand.

I support reform for a range of reasons. New Zealand society sees and deals with the effects of cannabinoids every day. New Zealand Police see and deal with the aftermath of cannabinoid related emergencies each day as do the emergency departments at our hospitals. An unknown number of families are despairing as they watch loved ones become consumed by the effects of synthetic cannabis, which is many times more powerful than ordinary cannabis.

I wonder what the socio-economic cost would be if someone tried to add up the money spent on rehabilitation, Police and hospital time and resources, the cost to individual families and finally to the public at large – in a twelve month period in Auckland alone St. John Ambulance was averaging 20 synthetic cannabis related call outs a day.

At one end of the spectrum, I hope to see cannabinoids:

  • Legalized for medicinal purposes
  • Of the synthetic ban them completely
  • Restricted to age 21
  • Subject to strict controls on nationwide cultivation of it

However cannabis is only part of the problem. Much worse drugs are making their way into the market both in New Zealand and abroad. In the United States, fentanyl is currently the drug causing alarm bells to go off, as part of an opioid epidemic. As I see it unless we address these other drugs as part of a comprehensive plan involving both the authorities  and communities, there will not be a meaningful gain in terms of reduction of harm.

At the other end of the spectrum, there needs to be a quite different response:

  • Dealers, importers and cooks of methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin and so forth should have all assets and money illegally made from the business confiscated and the proceeds put forward for rehabilitating addicts
  • Aforementioned dealers, importers and cooks be given 20 year starting sentences
  • A nation wide drug education programme that everyone must go through at high school
  • Have fentanyl classified as a licenced GP administered drug only to reduce availability and prevent abuse of it

In terms of communities, people in New Zealand need to step up with perhaps a confidential line that people can call if they have concerns about someone’s drug use. It would be monitored by the Police and give people a way of ensuring no harm is done whilst at the same time making sure they are not harmed themselves. Community leaders need to work with the Police and start having regular meetings, work out a strategy and integrate it with other local communities.

Because the results of failing to do so can be in clips on Youtube and having viewed a couple, I can say right now they are NOT General Audience viewing.

 

Stand with Christchurch


Yesterday, Friday 15 March 2019, white supremacists committed acts of terrorism against multiple Mosques in Christchurch where people were peacefully going about their prayers. In the ensuing attacks, 49 people were murdered. Improvised explosive devices were found by Police near the scene of at least one attack.

This is NOT what Christchurch stands for. This is NOT what New Zealand stands for. We are horrified beyond belief that such utter cowardice could be perpetrated against people carrying out totally legitimate activities.

Because of that, Will New Zealand Be Right will not publish until Sunday 17 March 2019. Stay safe. Reach out to any any friends you have in ethnic communities. Give thanks to the Police for the magnificent job they are doing bringing these people to justice.

Arohanui.

New Zealand Police not arming themselves


On Tuesday last week a man was shot in Richmond, Christchurch. The shooting happened after he fired a shot gun at police officers pursuing him whilst in a stolen vehicle. The vehicle had run over road spikes laid by the police to stop the vehicle whilst on Breezes Road, but it continued to be driven until it reached Evelyn Cousins Place.

Following the shooting, Canterbury Police armed their officers until the second man was found and taken into custody, on Monday. Despite the short duration of them being armed it was not part of a larger move and New Zealand Police stated that one of the great joys in New Zealand is not having to have officers armed, and that this is the way they would like to keep it.

This is understandable. Arming the constabulary raises tensions with the population and lessens the trust that is needed between communities and their lawn enforcement. There are also good reasons, based on overseas experience about why we should desist arming the police. So far in 2019, 162 people have been shot dead by police in the United States.

162 people – given the proliferation of guns in the United States and the fact that their population is about 65 times larger than New Zealand’s, maybe that should not be hugely surprising. However as we shall see there are several factors that need to be considered

When I look at police shootings here, I am grateful for the training New Zealand police receive. There are several very good reasons why I hope I never see New Zealand police officers routinely wear fire arms:

  1. The New Zealand police are trained differently and are taught to understand that the fire arm is the weapon of last resort. Because it is purpose built for delivering a potentially lethal injury, the threshhold for using a gun are correspondingly higher than that for using a taser, or lesser device such as a baton or pepper spray. I hope it stays that way.
  2. There is a certain degree of risk to the credibility of authorities when they play the fear card. New Zealand is a nation that does not like to be ruled by fear. If New Zealanders think authorities are purposefully playing on fear, the authorities will lose respect and any measures seen as punitive will become the target of ridicule. By giving authorities the means to use lethal force, the red line in the sand between credible fear and scare mongering comes a giant step closer.
  3. The gun culture in America makes things much more dangerous than it does in New Zealand. Because the Second Amendment explicitly permits Americans to use firearms for self defence, and because the National Rifle Association holds significant clout with conservatives who often complain about Americans having their gun rights eroded, it is a highly politicized issue which can cause politicians to tread unnecessarily warily around. We do not have that antagonism here around fire arms and there is no reason to start now.
  4. There is a degree of moral integrity at stake when a police officer shoots someone – for arguments sake – fatally. Because if that person was not armed, or in possession of something less lethal than a fire arm, unless the officer had expended the non-lethal options at their disposal and had failed to subdue the suspect, that officer has potentially committed manslaughter (giving the officer the benefit of the doubt that they did not intend to kill). How can one ascertain the suitability of an officer to possess firearms?
  5. The Police Complaints Authority and the system of accountability it uses to ensure that complaints against the New Zealand Police can be assessed have been found wanting with current cases. One where a formal complaint is laid for the accidental shooting of a homeless man high on methamphetamine could expose it and New Zealand’s reputation as a safe place with a reliable police force at risk. We cannot afford that.

Despite the concerns that New Zealand police may become like their American counterparts, I think the public scrutiny on the police force and their reactivity to that scrutiny is a good thing. The certainty that individual shootings are automatically referred to the Police Conduct Authority means officers have good reason to be careful about the use of force. However, a person high on drugs cannot be reasoned with, at least not safely. At that point force is necessary.

But in the Christchurch case, the offender reached for a gun and discharged it several times leaving the police with no choice but to use potentially deadly force.