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Radical Youth Response to Youth Gang Violence

2 November 2005

Radical Youth Response to Youth Gang Violence

We’re most disturbed to hear about the recent spate of senseless youth gang violence in Auckland.

While we realise there are many complex reasons behind the existence of youth gang culture, the recent incidents highlight the need for several important issues to be raised.

Both Labour and National governments of the past 20 years have seriously failed New Zealanders in low income communities.

The neo-liberal reforms of Roger Douglas in the 1980s and Ruth Richardson in the 1990s caused the highest rates of unemployment since the Depression and destroyed many people’s hope of finding secure full time employment.

Today rather than having a secure well paying full time job, many parents work several poorly paid part time jobs just to get by. This leaves them with little time to spend with their children and even less time to help out with community groups for youth, such as sports clubs. Youth gangs fill the void left by the loss of community groups and time with family.

New Zealand still has a highly disturbing rate of child poverty. A recent report by UNICEF ranked our nation fourth worst on an OECD child poverty league table. The report stated that one in six young New Zealanders live in poverty.

Some commentators in the mainstream media have blamed hip hop culture for the recent violence. It is simplistic to blame all hip hop. It is a musical genre perfect for expressing one’s feelings and has much to offer society as an artistic medium.

However, the mainstream media for many years has peddled American ‘gangsta hip hop’ to the masses. There is a line between those skilled artists who rap about the harsh realities of life on the street and those manufactured hip hop artists who glamourise gang violence to make huge profits for multinational record companies.

These manufactured hip hop stars rap about how tough life is and how it is normal to settle disputes with violence but then earn millions of dollars from record and advertising contracts. Advertisers pay them to drive pimped out Hummers, wear expensive jewellery and to market labeled clothing and footwear. Never before has the line between music and advertising been so fine.

This American cultural imperialism has influenced youth gang culture in New Zealand to such a degree that many of the gangs have taken their names from street gangs in Los Angeles and New York.

The government should be working to end child poverty in New Zealand. Welfare benefits should be raised, as since the heartless 1991 benefit cuts they have been at a level unfit to survive on. Forget about ‘free trade agreements’, we should be trying to create decent jobs for people in New Zealand. In the past we used to employ people making things, not stacking the shelves of the Warehouse.

The police getting tough on youth is not the solution to this problem. Heavy handed police actions will only make youth feel more alienated from their communities and therefore more likely to join gangs. We need to treat the causes of society’s problems - not just the symptoms. In the USA heavy handed policing against youth crime has had the effect of criminalising a whole generation and has not abated youth violence.

Rather than joining gangs, young people should become familiar with and raise their voices against the forces which are marginalising low income communities, not only in New Zealand but around the world, such as poverty, the rule of multinational corporations and poor government policies.

If youth become active in making decisions on important issues which affect their lives and their communities then they will lose the senses of hopelessness and boredom which are driving some to commit senseless acts of brutal violence.

ENDS

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