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Marc My Words: War not words to fight crime

Marc My Words… 30 June 2006
Political comment By Marc Alexander

We need war not words to fight crime

We know the story. Only the names and superficial details have changed. Lillybing. James Whakaruru. There are too many. These are names that should shame us. Shame us into action. Shame us into weeping. And now we have the Kahui twins.

Three-month-old Chris and Cru Kahui were admitted into Starship Children's Hospital on Tuesday 13th June suffering from severe head injuries. One also had a broken thighbone. By the end of the following Sunday both were dead - victims of their own family. The who and why are yet to be investigated but the sad indictment on our child abuse rates are beyond debate. At least they are beyond any more suffering. It’s a small consolation.

There will inevitably be calls by some to toughen penalties for crimes against children over and above that of other victims on the grounds that they are more vulnerable. While the sentiment is understandable, (children are generally more defenseless and helpless), it is a temptation that should be resisted. Once we attempt to differentiate the relative value of victims, (in respect to how we sentence the offender), we will inevitably weaken our justice system further by taking our focus away from the crime. We would then direct our assessment of consequence on the personal circumstances of the victim in much the same way as we already have done with the criminal to the detriment of real justice.

Is the murder of a child worse than that of a mother? The elderly? How about a prostitute? Isn't the real point of justice to balance the rights and wrongs criminals inflict upon individuals on the basis of the crime itself? Sure, aggravating factors must be considered. So too specific crimes peculiar to particular groups of people - child molestation can't happen to anyone other than children. What we shouldn't do though, is hold out a menu of sentencing consequences on the basis of the victims age, sex, or ethnicity rather than the offence itself.

Besides, does it really make sense to discern arbitrary standards between victims based on extraneous values when, in contrast, we do everything we can to normalize life on both sides of the prison gates? Where is the discernment there? It seems to have escaped many peoples attention that the Kahui twins' drama was unfolding at a time when Greens MP Sue Bradford was pushing her private members Bill allowing criminal mothers to have their infants in prison with them for up to two years. Further revelations that an inmate called for the services of a call girl and that new prisons will be outfitted with under floor heating and you could be forgiven for thinking that we taxpayers (the ones who will foot the bill), are the new justice system underclass. Where is the outrage over this? And yet the one aspect where they could normalize life in prison is to make them pay (or work to pay) for their comforts, yet they don’t! If they rip the radiators off the walls - apparently one reason given for the expensive under floor option - then what's wrong with letting them being cold? Isn't that the old fashioned idea of reaping what you sow?

But I digress.

There will also be calls from some who will want to blame colonialism for the relatively high rates of Maori family violence. No kidding I have heard this opinion expressed. They are the same people who also blame colonial interlopers for the high rates of Maori obesity, cigarette smoking and imprisonment as well. It is as one-sided as it is wrong. If Maori don't want to be fat then put down the potato chips, get off your couch and get active. If Maori don't want to have high rates of cigarette related illnesses then slap on a patch and give up and if they don't want to end up in prison then stop committing crimes. The real stupidity of such historical revisionism apart from being a load of bollocks, is that it is utterly offensive to assume that Maori are so incapable as to be forever trapped by their past. When was the last time you heard these cultural apologists claim with equal vigor that any Maori success was also due to colonialism?

No - the facts say otherwise. Up until around two decades ago Maori family violence was no worse (or better) than Pacific Islanders and other non-Maori. So unless someone can conjure up a convenient theory of delayed historical effects (and there will no doubt be some pointy-headed academic half-wit who'll try), the argument will fly about as well as a moa bone with a brick tied to it. And besides, crimes are committed by individual's not cultural traditions or ethnicities - that would be plainly absurd.

It may be a nice idea that politicians from all sides of our parliament want to put partisan bickering aside and work to find solutions but I am cynical about the results. Like most things it will degenerate into a talkfest with money thrown at Inquiries which will generate some media sound bites before the reports end up filling our landfill.

It certainly hasn't got off to a good start when Helen Clark brushed aside the spirit of cooperation by slagging off at Don Brash for wanting to move on the issue quickly. After seven years of pursuing ineffective policies against our deplorable rates of child abuse and infanticide, the prime minister has chosen to squander an appetite for action by wanting to wait for yet another meaningless government paper. It's sad that Clark has again chosen politics over solutions.

The real tragedy of the Kahui twin's murders is that we have done little to stem the tide of child abuse in this country and they are simply two of the latest victims. Between July 2005 and May 2006 there was a staggering 58,247 children reported to be at risk by police. In any given year we have about 13,000cases of child abuse. In the Counties Manukau district for example, the percentage of family violence emergency calls had doubled in the past four years. They accounted for 21 per cent of all 111 calls in 2001 and 42 per cent in 2005. In the past year alone Counties Manukau had received more than 10,000 reports of family violence and nine out of 12 murder victims in the district were killed by people closest to them. These are shameful statistics.

The Kahui family has been frustratingly silent over the individuals directly responsible for the twins' deaths. In at least that regard they are all guilty of obstruction and should be rounded up and arrested if necessary to help with the inquiries. The police have been compassionate and patient but the call of justice must now be answered. Chris and Cru had three short months to be tortured and brutally killed by those who didn't value them.

The twins stilled voices must be heard with full force and those responsible held to account. I have every confidence the police will do their job well, but I am less certain of the punishment. Those found guilty will inevitably get a bulk discount for causing two deaths at one time. They will then go to a prison where they will receive counseling as they walk up and down corridors with under floor heating towards their million dollar gym, computer room or dining hall. They will spend time watching movies, playing cards and ping-pong until parole sets them free at a third of their sentence.

Meanwhile Chris and Cru have been denied their life. Justice? I don't think so.


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