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David Miller Online Christchurch’s Violent Streets

David Miller Online: Christchurch’s Violent Streets

By David Miller

The mugging and beating of two Canadian tourists recently in downtown Christchurch, while despicable, should not come as a surprise to anyone. The two men were accosted by a group of youths while walking on Colombo Street near Cathedral Square and then attacked. They expressed their shock that such an incident could happen in Christchurch that has a reputation as a safe and friendly city. Christchurch is both of these things – in daylight. After dark and on a Friday or Saturday night especially, things are very different.

Every city has its problems and it is only fair to point out that Christchurch is no worse than anywhere else. Trouble plagues most major centres where large numbers of people congregate however what is most noticeable about Christchurch is the sharp rise in inner city violence over the past two to three years and the fact that it is no longer as safe as it was to walk through the central areas of the city late at night.

The most visible aspect of the Christchurch nightlife is the large number of youths that simply hang around the streets with nothing to do. Once those who have been in the city for dinner have left or moved on the streets become the domain of these youths who either spend the night driving around in their cars, loitering in the car parks of the cities supermarkets and malls, or just hanging around looking for a fight. Perhaps the worst area for this is the Colombo Street vicinity approaching the Square where the two Canadians were assaulted. The decision to allow a KFC, McDonalds and Burger King to be located together next to a video arcade that is open twenty four hours on the weekends was asking for trouble. Along with Cashel Mall, this area is a popular place for street gangs to hang out, pick fights and cause problems. There is nowhere else for them to go. Often these youths, who like to style themselves a wannabe gangster rappers of the Eminem variety cannot afford to drink in the bars and clubs hence find it more feasible to wander the streets. Having spoken to a number of people when doing some research on this issue, what is talked about the most are the emergence of small gangs, often numbering no more than five or six, that are on the look out for trouble and willing to join in should anything erupt or when a likely target is passing by. Several people I spoke too live in the areas surrounding the city centre and in the past would have walked home after a night out. Given their feeling that there is an increased chance of them being assaulted or robbed they do not even contemplate it now. One person who was robbed while walking back to his flat argued that the suburbs surrounding the city’s eastern fringe are the higher risk areas and this was where he was attacked.

Alcohol and drugs are the major contributors to this problem. It can be very expensive to drink in the bars and if one adds door charges and taxi fares into this mix then often it is out the question. The most popular thing to do is drink at home with cheap alcohol bought from a liquor store then head into the city. There is also boredom and the need on the part of these young people to act menacingly and prove to all that they are as tough and as prepared for a confrontation as anyone else. Often one is likely to be approached or threatened when with a group of friends as opposed to being alone or with one other person. It comes back to that ‘gang’ idea that is so popular at the moment.

We should not overstate the situation. The majority of people who go into the city after dark have an incident free night and an enjoyable one. However some do not and as the number of youths and wannabe gangsters appear on the streets that number will grow. Christchurch is a fun place to be and a great city to live however its landscape is changing after dark and not in a positive way. And while that trend continues we can expect more unfortunate incidents like the one that involved those two Canadian chaps.

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