National Party ignoring causes of gangs existence

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.


National’s lack of ideas not helping

Here we go again. National trotting out the tired old mantra of cracking down on crime and gangs in the equally tired belief that more punitive measures that seek to lessen the prisoners as people are somehow necessary. Certainly in the world of National leader Simon Bridges this is what one is expected to believe.

The problem is lowering taxes and getting tough on prisoners and gangs is so unoriginal, the radical aspect of them might be just how unoriginal these ideas are.

How many past National Governments have promised to “get tough on gangs” or “crack down on crime”? Mr Bridges is certainly not the first to promise that if elected to office – and given National’s apparent desire to remain stuck in the 1900’s – probably not the last either.

Mr Bridges might do well to talk to a few people, including former National Party Members of Parliament such as Bill English that have realised that after all this time, the “get tough on crime/gangs” mantra just is not delivering any more. They have realised that the ambulance is at the bottom of the cliff in terms of treating potential criminals and vulnerable people who might be influenced by criminal activity when it should be at the top.

It is all very well that Mr Bridges was a Crown Prosecutor and that he would have seen some nasty cases whilst in court. I do not blame him for being horrified at the social cost to society and the victims, but I honestly wonder if he prosecuted in any cases where the offender offended because jail was the best place s/he had been in their lives. They do happen and are damning yet sad cases that point to systemic failure right through the societal system – did they have a troubled childhood including expulsion or suspension from school; were they abused; what sort of parental figures did they have in their lives; did they have to be put in the care of the state?

Another idea that is old and ratty, yet one that National push every election is to lower taxes. One of the oldest and most sacred ideas of the right-wing of politics is also one of the ones that has never really realised its stated potential. I never hear anything about making sure that the New Zealand tax code is fit for purpose or that measures are being taken to close as many tax loopholes as possible. Nor do we hear of politicians working to  ensure that corporations and wealthy individuals pay in full what is expected of them at the time it is due.

National says benefit fraud costs the nation dearly. This is rather rich considering if all wealthy figures and companies paid their tax in New Zealand in full and on time, there would be around another N.Z.$7 billion in additional funds available to the Crown. The same party says that it will clamp down on welfare, which again is hypocritical when one looks at the support that goes to corporations and wealthy individuals who in some cases completely ignore their tax obligations.

How keen is National to win the next election one might wonder after reading this. Good question, because announcing same old ratty dust covered policies that make even the worst second hand books look rather more exciting is the political definition of insanity. But if you believe Simon Bridges, the liberal 21st Century ideas of giving prisoners doing shorter jail sentences their voting rights back is somehow going to aid and abet crime.

National’s gang policy fails to understand gangs

A few days ago two announcements about gangs in New Zealand came out that concerned me. One was that the Mongrel Mob had just announced its first all female chapter. The second one was a National Party announcement that it will massively crack down on gangs should it be returned to power in 2020.

I agree that the development of an all female chapter in a gang is a worrying turn. No questions about that. It means that whilst those women might feel like they have a bit of family structure that in a past life they may have never had, the violence, the drugs and the likelihood of Child Youth and Family being after any children they have whilst in the gang becomes very real.

It is perhaps the National Party announcement that causes me the greater concern, because National are once again turning to methods that have been tried, but not proven.

I am concerned that in pursuit of political points so that National may return to power in 2020, it has forgotten the how and why of gangs like the Mongrel Mob and Black Power existing. Or perhaps it has not forgotten these two important factors, so much as it does want to acknowledge them point blank.

If the latter is the case, the policy is potentially setting up to fail before it has even been implemented. Gangs do not exist simply because someone woke up and said “I’m gonna start a gang today”. Often they form out of people who have been marginalized by society or come from dysfunctional families. The reasons for membership may include anything from getting hold of luxury goods or services, but also a family structure that they might have never known otherwise.

Mr Bridges may have forgotten that a former National Party leader – none other than Robert Muldoon – once had a whisky with a gang, which earnt him their respect, especially when nearing the end of his drink he threw it at them. I am certainly not suggesting he try that. I am sure that things have gotten less safe than when Mr Muldoon decided that actually meeting 20-30 Black Power face to face and trying to understand how they worked and why, was better than rounding them all up. But perhaps Mr Muldoon understood something about gangs that we and Mr Bridges do not.

It is not that I am hugely sympathetic to gangs. I am not – the whole culture around them I find very disconcerting, but if we are going to lessen the issues around gangs we should look at the how and why of their existence.

Perhaps the best thing we can be doing is putting the markets for nasty drugs such as synthetic cannabis, heroin, crack and methamphetamine out of business. No good has ever come of these drugs, and they are hugely destructive, but the war on drugs as led by the United States is a complete failure. The need to start treating drug use a mental health issue has never ever been greater or more immediate and it is only going to get worse if nothing is done.

In New Zealand synthetic cannabis and methamphetamine are causing the most damage. In some small impoverished towns the highest earning jobs are actually on the black market peddling one or both of these two to the local dealers. As medical cannabis should be legalized, rather than penalizing the people who try to make a life out of drugs, having the knowledge they probably do to grow high quality cannabis, perhaps enabling a small number of them to grow cannabis that gets converted to medicine would be a solution.

But would Mr Bridges and his law and order gang see it that way? I am not wholly sure that they would.