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Turia: Wanganui Gang Insignia Bill

Wanganui District Council (Prohibition of Gang Insignia) Bill

Tariana Turia, Member for Te Tai Hauauru

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Tena koe Mr Speaker. Tena tatou katoa.

You know, sometimes I have to remind myself that it is election year this year and that we can expect that gang, graffiti and anything else that upsets the wider public will be paramount in this House and that members will vote for it on that basis.

Segregation on the basis of insignia has a tragic history dating to before World War Two in which particular groups targeted for extermination by the Nazi regime were categorised according to specific signs or symbols.

Each prisoner was treated according to the coloured triangles which represented their status in the social hierarchy of the concentration camps.

A green triangle marked the prisoner as a criminal; political prisoners wore red. Two yellow triangles designated a Jewish prisoner. The pink triangle was for homosexuals. A yellow Star of David under a pink triangle marked the lowest of the low – a gay Jew.

Today, many of those symbols have been reclaimed by these groups as a marker of pride, of solidarity, of unity. The ultimate resistance against an oppressive regime that forced them out.

I have been thinking of this history as I consider the move to authorise the Whanganui District Council to outlaw people whose crime, in the context of this Bill, is to wear gang insignia – the signs and symbols that demonstrate their membership of a particular group.

In this Bill, particular groups are targeted for the act of segregation and yet it is interesting to note that there are many gang organisations that in fact are exempted from this legislation.

When a bill starts to list specific groups for targeting there is always the danger in that in listing some it misses out others.

The sponsor of the Bill should either list all of the 88 gangs that may come into this territory as part of its target group, or at the very least provide a justification for why certain groups are named and others not.

The key issue is, that all this Bill does is to exclude, suppress, prohibit and ban. All it does is to close our eyes and put up walls, to force our problems out of sight out of mind.

Banning people by virtue of the bulldog on their back, will not address the real issues that supposedly this Bill is about.

If the problem is violence, let us work together on strategies amongst our communities, to achieve Mauriora for all whanau.

If the problem is criminal offending, then there are laws to address that too, so let us look into the causes of such crimes in the first place – be it poverty, racism, alienation, unemployment, or drug and alcohol abuse.

The problem, according to the title of this Bill, appears to be more about the dress code of gangs, than it does the behaviour of its members.

Let us be quite clear. We can not simply push people out of town, and hope that the extent of the violence and offending amongst some of our communities will simply disappear.

We must face up to the problems without focusing on the clothes people wear.

We have heard people talk here today about the behaviour of gang members, of the rape and all the dreadful crimes they commit. I am certainly not here to defend any of that behaviour, but it would be interesting to talk with the Women’s Refuge to find out who in fact commits the majority of rapes in this country. We might be surprised to find that it is not necessarily the gang members.

Mr Speaker, I am aware that even on the Council that is promoting this Bill, there has been heated opposition to it from councillors Barbara Bullock, Sue Westwood and Ray Stevens.

I mihi to their leadership in speaking out against this Bill while at the same time making a commitment to address any issues that are associated with gang activities in Whanganui. I support that.

The Maori Party will not support a bill which targets gang regalia or young people as the problem without looking at a comprehensive strategy to restore peace to our communities.

I have lived in Whanganui all my life, and you know, it is actually quite a rare thing to see the gangs uptown in Whanganui. It is not something that happens every day.

In fact members of the business community came out and said it was not the most significant issue for them.

So maybe we should talk to the people who are most affected by this behaviour rather than deciding that prohibiting people from wearing particular clothes will make one iota of difference. It will not.


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