Let He Who is Without Sin

When I was a young activist in Wellington I attended a function in Auckland at which the lead presenter was a bloke from Brazil called Paulo Freire. At the time I was much into Latin American liberation theology and when I read Freire’s book ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ a whole new world of possibility in social action opened up for me. Freire spoke of dialogue as a consciencetising and politicising process, and of ‘praxis’, the process of ‘informed action’ that flows from having social and political literacy. It inspired me — I think I was in Community Volunteers working for Tenants Protection at the time and I was a sponge for ideas about creating social change.

Signs of the Times – Denis at work 1973

When Freire came to New Zealand I just had to go to hear what he had to share. So off I went and with a large crowd of the similarly interested sat in this big hall, waiting to hear Freire, whilst a number of mainly Auckland radical Maori activists made speeches, all of which most of the gathered assembly had heard many many times before. It became a bit frustrating. It is apparent from God’s great hint in giving us two ears but only one mouth that we should listen twice as much as we speak. But, as you have probably already figured out I sometimes tend to rush in without observing social niceties. I stood and said that I’d heard all this stuff before and I had come a long way to listen to someone who had come an even longer way to speak. I wanted to hear from Freire and to learn what he had to teach us. This was of course the guru’s cue. He was waiting for someone like me with two mouths and one ear. Freire rose from the podium, and in a thick rich Latino accent said something along the lines of “My friend, I do not have a leetle bag with knowledge in eet. I do not come to teach, I come to leesten. The answers are being geeven to you. You must first leesten”. Then he turned to the speaker I had interrupted and said “Pleeze continue” and promptly sat down again.

Paulo Freire – Photo from cover of Paulo Freire's book Teachers as Cultural Workers — Letters to Those Who Dare Teach

Freire’s ‘praxis’, reflective action, has become the hallmark of what I do. Building community action and seeking pro-social change is encouraged by enabling people to become involved in the political agendas of their community and their nation. Being aware of the impact of the State’s policies on yourself and whanau can help you figure out the areas needing change. Some will be areas of personal responsibility where no one but oneself can make change. Others will be around the policies and societal structures that impact on self or whanau and either provide encouragement or are a barrier to your whanau goals. In my view, understanding this is the precursor to people joining up with school committees and clubs and standing for public office and all of those value adding contributions that constitute our social glue. When individuals understand how things work and how their effort counts they are more likely to want to make a difference. This is cause and effect thinking. It is achievement thinking. And it is this thinking that has led me to encourage gang whanau to register to vote, to talk to candidates about their policies and to actually vote in the upcoming general election.

On the same tack, when the Black Power gathered to discuss the implications of the banning of patches, the possible criminalisation of gang membership per se, the placing of a differential tariff on criminal sentencing if you are a gang member — possibly doubling sentences, and the reversal of the burden of proof and removal of the presumption of innocence for gang members, it seemed that the affected parties better figure out ways to exert their human rights. Implicitly there is always the option of succumbing to the bait and playing the role of aggrieved and alienated terrorist, taking up arms against what might be positioned as a neo-fascist state. But, it is a foolish and ultimately self destructive route and one which has always been rejected by the NZ Black Power. “Burma” Bill Maung convinced us all to take up the ballot rather than the bullet in the early 1970’s and I think that viewpoint has become entrenched over time. In conventional terms, apart from marshalling votes at the election, there is no possible political traction or leverage that gang members can use to oppose the proposed legislation.

In analysing the situation it seemed that the political will, if enacted, compromised the human rights of someone designated by the State to be a gang member regardless of whether they have committed a crime or not.

‘The wicked flee where no man pursues’ — To be so frightened he must be wicked —

His heart is thudding like a rapid drum Telling him that soon the fuzz will arrive

With torches and full bellies to shift him to the clink

So that each honest man can sleep

Ballad of the Junkies and the Fuzz – James K Baxter

A credible body to determine whether that is so is the United Nations but any appeal to the quarter could only occur after the fact, that is, the legislation would need to have been made law. The Government has already had a hand-slap from the UN Special Raporteur over the position and treatment of Maori New Zealanders. I tell you; away from the red-necked hype here in Aotearoa it’s screamingly bleeding obvious to those looking in from abroad that we are creating a criminalised underclass amongst our indigenous people. New Zealand has aspirations in the United Nations and our foreign policy wallahs are likely to be highly pissed off with a crew such as the Black Power making such a move but it’s a valid and available route of challenge, especially when the State has become obsessed with use of suppression as a tool of social control.

Why hammer nails? Why give no change?
Habit, habit clogs them dumb

Ballad of Calvary Street – James K Baxter

More immediately, here at home in Aotearoa, there is another body that can provide an independent call, at least where Maori New Zealanders feel they are being dealt an unfair hand by the Crown. It is called the Waitangi Tribunal and it is capable of dealing both with historic and contemporary claims of grievance by Maori. So, last year, a group of Black Power leaders, stung by the implications of ever increasingly oppressive legislation, gathered at a marae in Auckland and started exploring the nature, shape and purpose of undertaking a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal. The usual suspects, forming part of the contemporary Maori resistance movement, Moana Jackson, Annette Sykes and Charl Hirschfield, were asked for advice and guidance.

Moana Jackson - Photo from www.mass.org.nz

After study, investigation, and much korero, another hui was held in Hawke’s Bay at Easter (in Blog Easter Edge April 2008). Moana presented his analysis to the hui and shape was given to the claim. A working party of individual claimants representing the collective claim then set to fleshing out the detail of the constituent parts of the claim, gathering video interviews, and researching the prevailing Government policies at play at various relevant times pertinent to the claim. After more discussion in Auckland with a wide representation of BP members a final hui on the matter was held in Wellington last month (in Blog Jurassic Roar, August 2008), final decisions were made and the claim was lodged. Don’t think that this is some sort of spurious and publicity seeking venture. It is a considered and serious attempt to examine one of the most complex issues faced by contemporary Maori. Moana Jackson is an extremely clear and logical thinker and he is incredibly well versed in the policies and paradigms of our nation’s criminal justice sector as well as Treaty related law and precedence.

Article from The Dominion Post – Thursday 18 September, 2008

The derisory laughter that came from Dr Michael Cullen in his dismissal of the validity of the claim I think means that he hasn’t given it the attention it deserves. Cullen is proving to be an excellent Treaty Minister and he is making progress at a pace that has most players in the sector regretting that he didn’t hold the portfolio earlier. But, somehow, this curve ball got him off guard. He said that the BP claim couldn’t be made. He was wrong in law. This is not a good look when the Treaty is his portfolio. Michael has told me on more than one occasion how frustrated he is at the negative expenditure in the criminal justice sector. The BP claim isn’t on about money or an apology but it is on about holding systems and polices to account. What if the results of a successful appeal actually helped to break the failure cycle for these Maori families we call gangs? As I noted before, demanding accountability of others, institutions or people, can only make sense if a person is first willing to be accountable for their own actions. So it’s not about externalising responsibility or ‘blame’, it is, as always, and and, both, self and system.

The Treaty process of research and dialogue is like an ongoing action research project. In this case it’s on about addressing the non alignment of the governmental services delivered to these particular groups of Maori people and their real and discernable needs, and then enabling them to move on past deficit, towards self reliance and the realisation of their inherent potential, “Puawaitanga”. But there are other related claims too, interestingly having been developed and lodged independently, which suggests that there is a common frontier of experience by a broad segment of Maori New Zealanders. One of the claims — the so called ‘gang women’s claim (which it is not) lodged by the members of the Aroha Trust — carries the name Ko te Whakatipuranga o te Whanau Maori I te Ahuatanga Whakaroopu Tangata — the Growth of the Maori Family in the Gang Environment. The main issue for these claimants is the history of violent abuse of Maori women and their whanau in gang environments. There are stories to tell and one get sense of something resembling a truth and reconciliation commission approach being possible. Remember the Treaty process is on about identifying and resolving grievances and allowing people to move on. The remedies sought by the claimants aren’t in the area of money but in that of governmental policies. The benefits of any remedies will be enjoyed by these coming generations of those who otherwise would be locked into that alienated and socially marginalised space called gang.

In fact, I think as people move forward, become engaged and thus less alienated and marginalised, we will find that ‘gang’ becomes less and less relevant in their lives. It may well lead to the end of ‘gangism’ through a natural and sustainable progress, in contrast to the ‘make war’ suppressive approach currently applied. As Treasurer, Michael Cullen would be delighted in any process that might help resolve the drag of a criminalised underclass. So, don’t pre-judge this claim, don’t be prejudiced. In fact there is some strength to the argument that by having singled out this Black Power claim in the way that the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister and Treaty Minister have, and having been so publicly dismissive of it, the Tribunal is now compelled to accept it to demonstrate their independence and to comply with the implicit rules of natural justice. You should note by the way that the brother coordinating the BP charge (leader servant) on this claim is one Eugene Ryder, who makes regular guest appearances in these columns.

Eugene Ryder

Generally, when you look at an issue through other eyes you see a different world, a different world view. Give this claim some air, let it play out and honour the pro-social intent behind it rather than spitting in the face of a large body of people stepping forward to be accountable for their own actions and seeking to find a positive way forward for themselves and their children.

Well I’ve copped a fair bit of flack from all sides over the Treaty Claim so I might as well continue to lead with my chin and raise the following matter, that of ‘do we ever get to pay our dues? Can we ever be forgiven for our failings, sins, and crimes?’ A while ago an organisation I’m part of advertised for a youth worker. They selected a guy who had been to jail for a short time nearly 18 years ago. He was assessed as having made good, and he had a glowing reputation and a set of skills the group really needed. Part of the deal is that youth workers need to be vetted by the Police. All things considered that makes sense. In a highly criminalised society it will come as no surprise that Police are currently receiving between 1,000 and 4,000 vetting applications per day.

Well, when we appointed the fuzz in place
of God
It was a delicate decision

Ballad of the Junkies and the Fuzz – James K Baxter

In this case because of the condidates record the information needed to be sent to the head office of the funder. Despite his terrific references and work history I presume that he came up as a red card on some sort of risk assessment matrix. Anyway the head office declared that he wouldn’t be suitable. The candidate appealed the decision, came up with support from god and others, as it were, including local Police officers, and the decision was reversed, with a few appropriate safety conditions being imposed. The whole process took some six months and was very expensive in terms of time for everyone concerned, including I expect some high powered government legal team in the funding agency considering issues of human rights and natural justice. There is a move to have all volunteers in NZ similarly vetted and if you get widespread repeats of the instance I cited you can imagine the log jam that will ensue. There are a couple of points here. In the first instance it is often people who have been through the mill and have turned their lives around that make the most effective workers in ‘second chance’ education and life stabilisation programmes. They have the street cred and the ability to empathise born of their own life experience. Now obviously there need to be vetting procedures and I have no problem with that. But where there is moot about a person’s suitability, where the matter has a certain equilibrium between yea and nay and there is uncertainty, then I think the decision should come back to the local arbiters, the regional commander of Police and a local lawyer or such rather than leaving the decision with an anonymous body in Wellington who can only work off submissions on paper and use a systemised assessment process. I wonder too about the implications of the 3:1 rate of imprisonment suffered by the Maori community and what those high rates will mean when it comes to rates of Maori volunteerism in years to come. Maori rates of volunteerism are currently higher than those of the population at large. What will this mean? Can we sinners ever be rehabilitated? If you do the time for the crime, pay the penalty, must you always wear an albatross as a necktie? I have hope. Forgiveness and the potential for redemption sit at the heart of the Christian message and I always find solace in Psalm 118: 22

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”

This leads me to the issue of Clint Rickards LLB, who, having completed the necessary studies as a Bachelor of Laws, wants now to approach the Bar. There is debate and his sins, both admitted and alleged, are revisited upon him. Let me declare an interest. Clint’s partner comes from our kainga and whanaungatanga alone compels me to stand by the whanau in difficult times. But there is also the issue of natural justice, what is fair, and it seems that in Aotearoa we have become wobbly and confused as to the underlying principles of jurisprudence. For instance the Labour-led Government eschewed the right of Maori to take their claims to the seabed and foreshore to the Courts. As discussed in this epistle we have similarly seen the contempt with which the BP Treaty claim has been treated despite the right to submit it.

Our decoupling ourselves from the bedrock of English Law and the removal of our right to approval to the Privy Council has been accompanied by the rise of a new Court in the land, one favoured by the Prime Minister, called the ‘Court of Public Opinion’. In this Court facts are less important than perceptions and the Judge is guided by the polls rather than the principles and precedence of the Law. Clint Rickards has admitted periods of moral turpitude but never of criminal offending. He has been through what looks like a chain of trials and has been found not guilty in each instance. For Clint Rickards when do we say ‘enough is enough?’ and let him and his whanau move on? Give ‘im a fair go ref!

Well these are heady times and who knows what lies ahead of us. The gang sector is in the political ring and I’m sure to cop a few more punches before the final bell. But hey, if we can keep these matters on the agenda I believe we will contribute to building stronger, more inclusive and more resilient communities. We’ll see a reduction in the use of and involvement with the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine, we’ll see a reduction of gang related crime, and eventually we’ll see a reduction of gangism itself. These things I truly believe.

Brothers, I am a stranger, my coming here

Is a coming in love’ — then to kneel and say The Sorrowful Mysteries for the dark face

Of Ihu torn and broken, running blood

Under our own contempt and the blows of the cops

E taku Ariki, how long how long

Till your moon lights the heart of a Maori Zion

And a thousand men move out of the bin and clink, Working and eating together, sharing whatever they have,

And You are born again in a broken whare And Your Mother wears on her head the tankino band?

Zion – James K Baxter


Tags: Black Power  Denis O'Reilly  Moana Jackson  Paulo Freire