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Gang laws not a patch on reality

Election promises should be coming to the fore very soon, with one of the biggest talking points being gang policy.

It has been dragged into conversations with politicians on a daily basis, particularly when they little else to talk about.

National’s gang policy has received both widespread criticism and support from across the motu, and with it has come the seeds of discontent.

We’ve already seen some testy interactions between gang whānau and the incoming Minister for Police, Mark Mitchell, and how he responded to criticism over policies that some see as divisive and, in some instances, have been called draconian.

The one thing politicians fail to provide in their wide-reaching promises of a ‘gang-free’ Aotearoa is evidence of this so-called outbreak of gang crime.

Yes, gangs are heavily reported on in media – their way of life is seen as criminal and different to what is considered the ‘norm’.

Yes, some gang members participate in criminal activity – as do non-gang members and yet their crimes are barely covered or discussed in national media television by politicians.

Information from an Official Information Act [OIA] request received by the Times-Age from police shows that only 2.3 per cent of crime is committed by a known or identified gang member.

If you know anything about gangs, their identity as a gang member is very rarely something they’d hide.

There’s a real social issue here when we as a society want to vilify and use gangs as campaign talking points without actually addressing the reason why people join gangs, and why some gangs partake in criminal activity.

“Gangs were made, and we joined them because we were fighting against a society that didn’t want us, and we still are,” said a gang member during an interview earlier this year – a statement not to be taken lightly.

Anecdotal evidence suggests gang membership can also be prompted by the failure of our government systems to protect them as children.

On the ground, gang members have been involved in good things, too.

People seem to forget the participation of gang members in protecting and helping mosques nationwide after the Christchurch shootings.

I lived three doors down from the mosque in Dunedin that had been flagged as a potential target, and I recall having Armed Offender Squads [AOS] closing off our street for weeks after.

There was one instance where we had a member of a gang, an AOS member, and me sitting on the front deck of our house having a cup of tea and a kōrero.

My firsthand experience of gang patch laws, growing up on the Gold Coast, and the resulting violence after those laws came into effect show that they had the opposite outcome to what politicians had promised.

Tensions ran so high that two rival gang members, dressed in plain clothing and without patches, got into an altercation that resulted in a gun being discharged and the bullet hitting an innocent bystander in the hip.

Maybe it’s time for politicians to forget their promises of banning the results of historical failures and instead look to actually creating an Aotearoa where these ‘issues’ don’t perpetuate until there’s no choice left but for them to come up with more legislation.

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