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  • Henry Broadbent

Patch Notes


The Coalition Government last week announced new legislation banning gang patches in public will become law—even if it breaches the Bill of Rights. Should it be passed, wearing gang insignia in public would mean a fine of up to $5000, or up to six months in prison. The legislation, much like the proposed Thin Lizzy Mandate on facial tattoos, has led a number of commentators to express their doubts. 

The Criminal Bar Association, in a press release doubling as an appeal to reason, called for “evidence-based justice policy that keeps our communities safe, while upholding a fair system”, adding “[t]he Government’s proposed new ban on gang insignia does neither of those things.” 

In the release the President of the Association, Annabel Croswell, points to past instances of similar policy roundly failing to prevent crime, and criticises the policy as one that will target Māori, Pasifika and low-income communities whilst entirely ignoring root causes of crime.

And indeed, evidence bearing out the legislative rationale is incredibly lacking. So lacking there isn’t any. 

The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Officer last year produced an exhaustive report on reducing harm from and within gangs in Aotearoa. There is a section dedicated to ‘suppression’ efforts, titled ‘You can’t just arrest your way out of the problem’. It finds zero-tolerance policing to be “questionable in its efficacy”, and goes on to detail the ways in which such initiatives can work to increase, rather than reduce, harm:

“These types of policing practices … [lead to] increased racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and the criminalisation of vulnerable populations such as the homeless and mentally ill … We know that targeted enforcement efforts run the risk of strengthening internal gang cohesion, reinforcing anti‐social attitudes, and simply displacing offending elsewhere rather than addressing the problem at its root.” 

‘Tough on crime’ policies are further identified as ‘tough on children’—increased incarceration means more children with disrupted lives. Cited, too, is a measurable distancing of Police from the communities they operate in, following the implementation of similar policies.

The report pulls from years of evidence, in particular a number of similar attempts by Australian lawmakers to publicly ‘crack down’ on gangs. Following ~seven years of ‘anti-gang’ legislation in Queensland, a cool 86% of those charged in the state under gang related laws were not in gangs. 

Not only are such laws ineffective against addressing root causes of crime, they give police heightened, dangerous impunity—and data shows it will be used. In a political environment where anti-Māori legislation is routinely pushed through under urgency, and Māori and Pasifika remain grossly overrepresented in the prison system, further emboldening cops feels … counterproductive. Of course, that depends on your goals.

Te Waikamihi Lambert, on behalf of Ngāi Tauira, the Māori Students’ Association, described the policy to Salient as “a racist tactic disguised as a solution”, with the goal of incarcerating “mass numbers of Māori and other marginalised groups … [in the interests of] … the prison industrial complex … The Government is not ignorant. The industrial judicial complex is working perfectly, as designed.”

And does the pesky little Bill of Rights make things awkward for our lawmakers? The proposed legislation would limit the right to freedom of expression, and provide the police powers to limit citizens' right to association and peaceful assembly. But rest assured, Minister of Justice Paul Goldsmith has already declared that minor concerns like citizens rights won’t get in the way of something as serious as a campaign pledge. 


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