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 But are you the same people telling Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern that the COVID19 level is out of date?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.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 11

Yesterday was DAY 11 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Over the last several days I have seen people starting to comment on the need for a healthy functioning political opposition  in times like these. The commenters are from both sides of the divide, which I found encouraging because it means that both the right and the left understand that healthy democracy cannot exist if there is no one asking the hard questions.

Right now are unprecedented times. Never before in my life time have so many civil liberties been suspended, and certainly not for the compelling reasons we find being used to justify the lock down. Before we progress further I want to briefly look at some of those freedoms that one could argue have been suspended.

  1. Although there is nothing to stop online assemblies, freedom of physical assembly is effectively suspended as it is too dangerous to have contact outside of your bubble.
  2. With the exception of going for walks or going to the super market or the doctor or pharmacy, freedom of movement is effectively suspended – you cannot go to your holiday house/bach/other secondary property
  3. Freedom of association outside of your bubble, on line communities you belong to, is also in respects suspended as one cannot meet for any length of time except from a distance – people sitting on either sides of the road in deck chairs having a beer/wine with 2 metre distancing; are okay, but one cannot go to a bar with a bunch of mates

Yet we can be thankful we live in New Zealand. In some other countries the measures that have been taken are even more draconian. In China people who had COVID19 had steel frames physically welded to their door frames so that their front doors could only open a certain distance.

New Zealand also has legal protections that Chinese do not. The most important is a functional democratically elected Parliament. It has a media that enjoys one of the highest freedom ratings in the world, and has (for the most part!) independent watch dogs. New Zealand also permits N.G.O.’s such as Amnesty International, Transparency International and Human Rights Watch to operate on New Zealand soil without fear of persecution.

A State of Emergency has been declared here, but there is a strong legal framework in which it operates. If after 1221 hours 08 April, reasonable grounds no longer exist for the activation of Civil Defence Emergency Management Act powers, the State of Emergency must expire. Any renewal must happen before that time, and shall be valid for no longer than one week before another review happens.

Does that mean New Zealand is perfect? Absolutely not.

For example, I believe there needs to be an amendment to how Parliament passes legislation that requires long term emergency legislation such as the Canterbury Earthquake Recover Authority Act 2011 to have a sunset clause or a review clause. This is a mechanism that is triggered by certain conditions being met or exceeded and must be acted on. No such requirement currently exists, and the 5 year sunset clause in the C.E.R.A. Act was inserted after resistance in Parliament.

Another issue is not being able to get up to normal autumn pursuits, such as the duck shooting season in May. As hunting, swimming and surfing are non essential activities, Police have the power to tell people partaking in those activities to go home and desist until restrictions are lifted. Both the Police and the Government could have been better at communicating this.

As mentioned on Sunday, I believe New Zealand has some challenging decisions to make in a few weeks time when the four week lock down period will end. The real test of our democracy will be in how we handle the end of this period, when public compliance will no longer be a certainty.

But for now, with 18 days still on the clock, New Zealand’s compliance is for the very most part guaranteed.

Extinction Rebellion protests not helpful

Yesterday 200 activists from Extinction Rebellion caused disruption in central Wellington. They occupied an A.N.Z. bank branch, blocked intersections and formed a group outside the Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise (M.B.I.E.). The protests which were part of a 60-city world wide disruption campaign were not well received by the Police, Prime Minister or members of the public.

Activism that is peaceful is perfectly fine and there are many examples of peaceful activism that have drawn impressive results. But activism where disruption involves illegal activity such as trespassing or causing nuisance, whilst gaining media attention, is not a great way to get public support.

Whilst being an activist myself, there is one thing I will not do except in exceptional circumstances: break New Zealand law.

The one instance where I believe breaking the law might be necessary is in the improbable – not impossible – event that indefinite martial law is declared or one of the core Acts of Parliament that form the basis of our constitutional framework is suspended. But as this is talking about the realms of the quite improbable, I see no need to break New Zealand law.

But to Extinction Rebellion an organization established to protest government policies that they say are leading humanity to its nadir, it is apparently okay.

The protests yesterday are not their first. A few weeks ago protesters aligned with Extinction Rebellion trespassed into the railway corridor in Christchurch to stop coal trains. In doing so they delayed the transit of four freight trains for several hours. In doing so they interfered with railway track that would have had to be checked over for potential damage before trains could be allowed to pass over it.

I said I am an activist, and I am. I have much time for peaceful activism and believe that there are stronger ways of getting messages across than participating in activity that disrupts for the sake of disrupting. Extinction Rebellion could have had a protest outside Kiwi Rail offices, or crowd funded an advert in the media or handed out flyers.

More surprising was the belief of some at the Amnesty International New Zealand office, that such disruption as that caused by the railway protest was okay. Based on what I have been told in the past, this stance sounded like a departure from their normal law abiding approach.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern correctly said that the A.N.Z. protesters were doing no one any favours. Disrupting a bank where people are trying to carry out their legitimate financial procedures is not likely to curry any favours with the New Zealand public, or the Police who probably thought they had better things they could have been doing.

Ihumatao not a Springbok Tour moment

This is largely a rebuttal of a column penned by Glenn McConnell for Stuff.

There are several key facets of the Springboks Tour 1981 that simply do not reflect in the Ihumatao protests:

  1. The Springbok Tour was about sending a message to the apartheid regime of South Africa that there is no place for apartheid in the world; that if they insist on choosing sports teams based on skin colour and not their ability to play the game, South Africa’s isolation will be long and miserable
  2. It was about telling the world that New Zealanders are better than supporting apartheid regimes
  3. The police response has been nothing like the Springbok tour – in case Mr McConnell failed to notice the documentaries that have screened on television about the tour
  4. No one is actively denying that Ihumatao has significant indigneous and early settler history – the dispute is about the fact that the land is meant to be getting handed over and even the local kamuatua and kua are satisfied with the arrangements in place

Institutionalized racism still exists in New Zealand. We still see flashes of it sometimes in disturbingly high places in the New Zealand political structure as well as pages on Facebook promoting division. But those flashes are more the acts of people who refuse to recognize the line where freedom of speech of speech reverts to a racist discourse. New Zealand is no different from any other nation: all of them have racists, people with a problem about the ethnic diversification of society. Sad people with a problem about someone’s skin colour.

But this is not about that. This is about addressing what to do with land that has a bit more history than probably most of New Zealand actually knows about. Land that has had both Maori and European settlement on it. And of the grievance factor, I conducted searches of several documents from the Treaty of Waitangi settlement between the Crown and Ngati Whatua. They included a search of the Summary of the Dead of Settlement, the Deed of Settlement between Ngati Whatua and the Deed of Settlement: Properties. I found only one very brief mention of Ihumatao in The Deed of Settlement. The oral record of the area’s history is well documented. It is not like Ihumatao was unknown to Maori or to Europeans when the settlement was signed in 2011. The documents are available on the New Zealand Government website.

New Zealand was a nation utterly divided by the Springbok tour. Many of the generation of politicians who have left Parliament in the last decade or so were leaders of the protests – Helen Clark, Keith Locke, Rod Donald, among others. The rugby fans were there to see a match being played in a sporting code that was still stuck in the 19th Century. Several years earlier there were African nations threatening the International Olympic Committee with a boycott of the Olympics if New Zealand was not sanctioned for hosting racist rugby tours.

Mr McConnell seems to have misjudged the audience or is only committing to looking at a warped cross section through the community. Whilst Green and some Labour M.P.’s have gone to attend the protests, just as many as well as New Zealand First M.P.’s have stayed away. Nor have National or David Seymour of the A.C.T. Party attended any of the protests. And I do not see or hear a ground swell of anger rising in the background as there most certainly would have been around the Springbok Tour.

I have received commentary about the Amnesty International involvement at Ihumatao. I wish to reiterate that contrary and to the probable disappointment of some people involved in the occupation, Amnesty has to remain strictly neutral, which it is doing. It is there to observe actions and ensure that both the Police and occupants recognize human rights law.


I welcome refugees to New Zealand – Do you?

New Zealand has a proud history of being a compassionate nation, a believer of giving people a fair go. With an unprecedented number of people having been made refugees by international or internal strife, some countries are shying away from accepting them. Some are becoming openly hostile. But that does not mean New Zealand should be like them.

Introducing the “I Welcome” pledge, whose aim is to pledge to help settle refugees in New Zealand. The I Welcome pledge is an Amnesty International New Zealand initiative that targets decision makers – district, city and regional councillors as well as Members of Parliament – and get them to help get refugees setled. It aims to help them with basic things that might be foreign to them such as establishing a bank account; getting a General Practitioner, helping them build a curriculum vitae, catching public transport and so on.

When a refugee arrives, they are likely to be bewildered, confused, wary. Such different ways and customs, expectations and hopes. Whereas many of them might have lived day to day wondering where their next meal is going to come from, here it is different. Here they will be wondering how to make the most of these strange yet welcome new opportunities and getting around everyday challenges. That is where people who have taken the I Welcome pledge come in.

By taking the simple I Welcome pledge you are committing to helping vulnerable people getting settled in New Zealand. The experience Amnesty has with refugees suggests that they will be hugely grateful for the opportunities and assistance, desperate not to make mistakes and very willing to learn.

You might have knowledge on writing C.V.’s or be familiar with the workings of the local public transport system. Maybe you are a nurse or G.P.; have cultural experience or familiarity with the countries that refugees are coming from. If you have knowledge and/or skills, or simply want to help, but am not sure how, take the pledge.

I am not suggesting and nor is anyone else that we take all known refugees – not least because New Zealand does not have room for well over 50 million refugees from all corners of the world. But there is no reason on Earth why New Zealand cannot double its refugee quota from the current pathetic 750 per annum.

With time these people will most likely become contributing taxpayers. They will be wanting to make a meaningful contribution, perhaps as a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or professional sports person. In other countries refugees have gone on to become world leading surgeons. Some in New Zealand who arrived as a result of the Tampa freighter incident involving Australia in 2001 are now small business owners.

So, I reject this notion that they will be a drain on the New Zealand taxpayer for these reasons, but also because at the end of it New Zealand’s reputation overseas will be enhanced. Our cultural diversity will be greater. Wealth is not all about dollars, though it certainly helps – we think of wealth in purely economic terms, but perhaps one of the greatest ways to become rich as a nation is by giving refugees a chance to develop as people, thrive and give back.

The I welcome Pledge enables that to happen.