Taking it to the streets

In Newsletter Editorial5 MinutesBy Gavin MyersNovember 3, 2023

In last week’s EDM editorial, I referenced the societal problems – including youth crime – bubbling away as New Zealand moves into the Christopher Luxon era of National governance. It appears that of all the campaign topics that Luxon pushed in the race to the Beehive, no time has been wasted broaching the task of tackling rising crime and gang proliferation.

National’s plan to address gangs entered the headlines a couple of weeks ago. In addition to granting police the power to issue dispersal notices, consorting prohibition notices and firearms prohibition orders, the party is also taking a hard line against patches and visible tattoos.

I suppose any power is better than no power, but how effective will it really be when police tell a gang of gang members to ‘go away and not associate in public for seven days’, or to not ‘associate with other gang members for up to three years’, or to tell convicted gang members it’s ‘illegal for them to access firearms’? I imagine the response will be something like that of a group of schoolboys having the school’s softest teacher wagging her finger at them for being naughty … rolled eyes and an insolent laugh before they go around the corner and simply carry on.

But it’s the last part of the plan I mentioned that’s become the most talked about in the past week – preventing gangs from displaying patches and tattoos in public to the point of requiring them to apply foundation to cover up face tattoos or face arrest. It’s become such a touchy subject that, the NZ Herald reports, the Mongrel Mob has hired a lawyer to “investigate the legality of National’s election pledge”.

A gang seeking legal advice on a proposed law to constrain them … that strikes me as an ‘only in New Zealand’ scenario.

While I agree with Luxon’s point that these symbols are intimidating, on the other hand, criminals will do what they do, whether that’s publicly or underground. Which is the more dangerous? Out of sight and out of mind might make the public feel more comfortable – and be an easy win for the incumbent – but it doesn’t mean the problem has been solved.

Speaking of solving the problem, Stuff quoted a senior Mongrel Mob member saying, “policies adopted overseas, which focused on social development rather than suppression, were far more effective, and he wanted to see New Zealand look into it”.

In the second ‘only in New Zealand’ moment of this editorial, we have a gang member telling the authorities how to address the problem of … gangs! And he’s also correct.

Sure, the approach needs to be multi-pronged – the police need as much power and as many resources and personnel as possible, the courts need to pass appropriately harsh sentences and, yes, life for those who choose to abide by their own laws should be made unbearable. The plan to empower police to search suspected gang members, their vehicles and properties without warrants would certainly be a good start.

Indeed, we all make our own choices and must bear the consequences. But such tactics only treat the symptoms, not the cause. None of that nips the problem in the bud or addresses questions of community, education, employment, youth vulnerability and root societal issues. These are far larger, more difficult questions to answer – especially in the space of a three-year term.

I have no doubt sociologists, criminologists, legal eagles and politicians will continue to weigh in on the topic. But it’s good to see National wasting no time in acting in some way. Whether it’s the right way will be seen.

Take care out there,

Gavin Myers