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.