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  • Will Irvine

Government’s War on Gangs will Ravage Māori and Pasifika Communities


Last week, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster announced the formation of a “National Gang Unit”, which will include 25-30 members at the national level, alongside seven-person district teams. These units will be solely dedicated to monitoring gang activity, with a specific focus on monitoring tangi and other large congregations of gang members. The policy has already drawn comparisons to past efforts to establish specialised anti-gang units, including Judith Collins’ famed “Strike Force Raptor” debacle during the 2020 election campaign. 

While little information is available about the National Gang Unit itself, it forms part of a wider escalation against gangs by the new Government, including an outright ban on gang insignia in public areas, introducing gang membership as an aggravating factor in sentencing, and giving police special powers to break up large gatherings of gang members. A report by Attorney-General Judith Collins found that the new legislation was “inconsistent with the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990”. Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith told RNZ”s Morning Report that even if the legislation was found to violate the Bill of Rights, the Government was committed to passing it into law. 

Te Paati Māori’s Justice Spokesperson Takuta Ferris told RNZ that the reforms would unfairly target Māori and Pasifika communities. “Until a government owns up to that responsibility and starts investing back into those communities, and raising those communities up out of the impoverished states that they live in, giving people hope and aspiration, you're never going to fix the problem. You're actually going to exacerbate the problem."

Salient spoke to Mongrel Mob and H2R spokesperson Harry Tam about the new National Gang Unit. “These units tend to develop a culture of their own,” said Tam. “They begin to feel that they’re above the law… they use heavy-handed policing tactics.” He cited the Department of Corrections’ “Goon Squad” in the 1990s, which reportedly committed human rights abuses, eventually resulting in the death of an inmate after being brutalised by five guards. 

Tam cited the Scarman report on the 1981 Brixton riots in the UK, which found that police abuse of “stop and search” powers, similar to what the current Government is proposing, had been weaponised against Black communities and had ended up creating the conditions for violence. 

But Tam also said the media had a role to play. In the 2020 election campaign, Tam explained, mass media gave the illusion of a youth crime wave, when in fact youth crime was falling across the board. This allowed the National Party to pursue policies like boot camps, which have a proven track record of increasing reoffending. “Almost every report since the 1990s has pointed to a need to address media sensationalism”, Tam said, yet nothing has been done.


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