As many others will be doing at this uncertain time, I am hunkering down and wondering about the state of the play in the world as I know it. On a global scale the hypocrisy and ultimate futility of the US project in Afghanistan is gobsmacking. On a bigger scale still, the growing evidence of a planet pushed to breaking point by the extractive profit driven commodification of all things is chilling. Closer to home we have a virus to surround and conquer. It does seem that our politicians and public health specialists are close to being on the same page and we can have some confidence that this outbreak will be isolated and extinguished. We also have winds of change blowing through the bureaucracy of our state child protection system in Aotearoa. In this blog post I want to touch on the indirect connections – the conjuncture – between some of these things.
I have read the pre-publication Report of the Waitangi Tribunal (Wai 2915) – Oranga Tamariki Urgent Inquiry – with great interest. It is, at least potentially, a ground-breaking report. It signals the possibility of significant systemic change to the child protection system in Aotearoa – especially for Māori. The report should, I think, be read by everyone with an interest in this future. The core recommendation for a transformational transition authority is, I believe, a challenge and an opportunity which must be grasped by the state.
Kia ora koutou
The ‘devolution’of state social work, particularly child protection work, to Māori is the bone to be picked. It is a challenging debate and we are potentially at a critical turning point. For a start there are the “What is an old Pākeha man engaging with this issue for?” – “Isn’t it a topic for Māori to somehow resolve themselves?” kinds of questions to contend with. I’ll get to that part in the following paragraphs. We need to be talking about devolution – again – and we need to get it right this time.
Like many observers I have been increasingly gobsmacked by the slow train-wreck of the Trump presidency, asking myself, “Is this guy for real? – Can this get any worse?”. And the answer is perpetually yes; “yes it can get much worse”. In this post I begin to unpick some of the madness and explore some further questions: why should this matter to us and what can be done?
Last year the police announced a trial of Armed Response Teams (ARTs) to support police on the streets. Patrols have been trialed in Counties Manukau, Waikato, and Canterbury over the last six months. These squads comprise groups of police officers armed with guns patrolling the trial communities in SUVs. They were meant to be focused on organised crime that posed significant community risk, according to the Commissioner at the time.
These armed units don’t make communities feel safer. Institutional racism in the police raised fears that the squads would be more likely to target Māori and Pasifika. Just Speak reports research shows that “when first encountering police, Māori who have had no prior contact with the justice system have a greater risk of a police proceeding and are more likely to be charged by Police, than Europeans. When someone is charged they are more likely to end up trapped in the justice system”. Restorative justice coordinator Kainee Simone at the Manukau Urban Māori Authority has expressed concern on Te Ao Māori news that “by imitating American policing New Zealand could end up with the same issues America is now dealing with”.
Police are nearly eight times more likely to use violence against Māori than Pākehā, and three times more likely to use violence against Pasifika people than Pākehā. 66% of the people police have fired guns at in the last 10 years were Māori or Pasifika. And in 2016 research reported young Africans have told AUT researcher Dr Camille Nakhid that police have stopped and abused them on the streets or in cars, for no apparent reason except their colour.
So what happened in the trial? According to NewsHub, documents obtained showed that the trial ‘saw [the units] used most often for traffic stops instead of armed offenders or serious crime’. The data shows armed police were used 339 times for bail checks, 224 times for basic enquiries, 223 times for suspicious activity and 43 times for burglar alarms.
Most of all, on 1406 occasions, armed police were used for turnovers – the force’s code for a simple traffic stop.
They were also sent to callouts in mental health crises. How can armed police help when their presence is likely to cause more fear and trauma? Mental health callouts need expert mental health responses and care, not guns. We don’t want a militarised police force in Aotearoa. The events of the last few days since the death of George Floyd in the US has brought the police abuse of power and brutality into sharp relief. There are clear calls to stop these armed units in Aotearoa. The police have said they want to hear from people as part of the evaluation. Let’s tell them we don’t want ARTs. Act quickly, as they have said the results of the evaluation will be released at the end of June.
Have your say: social workers must speak out about these units. There are a number of ways you can do this. The #ArmsDownNZ hashtag on Twitter is a good source of information and the Arms Down website has more.
From ArmsDownNZ Callin you can access information to help you express your opinion. You can choose to leave feedback with the police directly, or contact your local MP to advocate for your community. A petition is open on Action Station.
Photo credit Justine @kvetchings