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Miller: A Return to Christchurch’s Violent Streets

David G. Miller Online

A Return to Christchurch’s Violent Streets

Whether one attributes the level of violence and abuse that occurred in Christchurch following the Super 12 final earlier this month to the result or not, there can be no denying the fact that this city has a serious problem with alcohol and its related problems such as binge drinking, procurement by those under the age of 18 and violent behaviour. This is not the first column I have written regarding the increasing levels of violence in Christchurch and I am certain that it will not be my last, yet it is a topic to which I constantly return and one that is constantly misunderstood by the Government and the local authorities.

The result in the rugby final was merely the catalyst for much of the trouble and the rise in domestic violence that occurred after the final whistle. So much of the reaction in the media and the public opinion was that Cantabrians reacted adversely to the loss and fuelled by excessive alcohol gave vent to their emotions and disappointment yet this assessment is only partly correct. Certainly, there were those who used the game as an excuse to cause havoc or to beat their spouses and partners as has happened before when one of our teams has suffered a reversal of fortune but most of what occurred would have happened irrespective of whether sport was involved. The fact of the matter is Christchurch has a serious problem of alcohol and drug use and most of it is hidden from view. What the city witnessed two weeks ago was merely the result of this epidemic not the cause of the problem itself.

The Government’s proposal to raise the drinking age back to 20 and calls from members of the public for bar hours to be limited are measures that are akin to closing doors once the horses have all bolted. These are nothing more than reactionary measures by politicians, councillors and lobbyists trying to save their jobs. The problems do not lie with the bars or the pubs; instead, they lie in the fact that so many people drink to excess in their own homes or those of people they know. So many teenagers, aged 18 or lower, procure their alcohol or drugs through friends or family old enough to obtain it and they certainly do not spend their time in the bars where they can be controlled and monitored. The reason is money. An average price for a drink in the city costs around 5 dollars, where as the same drink can be purchased at a bottle store for around 2 to 3 dollars. Often the drink purchased across the counter can be taken without anything to dilute the alcohol content and can be bought in much larger quantities. On nights when there is an event such as the rugby, then more people certainly flock to the bars, however so many stay at home or locate to private parties and only once the game is over and there is nothing more to drink do they head into the city. That is when the trouble starts.

It has become a trend for people in the city to spend the night driving around in their cars, walk up and down Cashel Mall, loiter in the car parks of the cities supermarkets and malls, or just hanging around looking for a fight. 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 to 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. Just last month two friends of a colleague were attacked and robbed while walking back into town from a flat the city’s eastern fringe. Both suffered severe facial injuries and the motive for the attack was simply to inflict harm and suffering. Although the Police apprehended the offenders, they were unremorseful for their actions and they will certainly offend again. The question is will their next victim be as lucky as the two that on this occasion are here to tell the story.

We should not overstate the situation as Christchurch has the same problems that afflict other centres. 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 some are unfortunate to suffer in their own homes because of violence from a spouse or partner and their alcohol and substance abuse. As the number of youths and wannabe gangsters appear on the streets grow and the more people abuse alcohol then this problem will only rise. 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 those following the rugby. It is time for those in positions in authority to wake up to the causes of the problem and not simply look to impede on those who enjoy a good night out and obey the laws.


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