Dear Matua Craig,
Late last evening I stood at the hospital bedside of my young Hawke’s Bay Black Power brother Petera Smith. He was in a coma and on life support. I whispered my nickname for him “Sione” into his ear. “Sione, brother D here, we love you, don’t leave us”. It was an aspirational encouragement. But aspiration was the issue at hand, not enough oxygen naturally available in Petera’s system for him to survive without mechanical support. Later, in the evening, when we gathered for prayers, his pastor shared the likely sad prognosis, yet expressed hope in God, and if his will was to be, a miracle.
So, this morning, no miracle having occurred, the prognosis came to pass, and another fine young Maori man left us, maumau tangata ki te po. We all stand bereft, dazed, like parents and whanau nationwide in similar circumstances, asking ourselves how we could better have responded to his dilemma? Petera was a gang member, partner, and parent. In a social environment of official bias and prejudicial labelling he struggled to reconcile the dark and light in his life.
In June, Matua Craig, you were quoted in a local rag as saying “When a gang member wakes up every morning he should be thinking ‘actually its not that much fun being a gang member’. Make their lives difficult. That’s what I’m saying”. Make their lives difficult! Do you think young people join a gang because life is already easy? Here in the Hawke’s Bay we have seen at least nine members of this broad gang fraternity pass away since March of this year, some of them of these associated with use of methamphetamine. Petera Smith was not one of these.
Well, Mr Little, later this week, when Petera Smith’s funeral cortege passes through Te Wairoa on his way to his ancestral lands and final resting place, reflect on your words. You might even dip the District Council’s flag as an act of remorse, not for what you said, but for what you clearly believe and make happen. Our words generally express what’s in our heart. Make life difficult for “them”.
When you recently gathered with fellow members of the HB Regional Mayoral Forum (Alex Walker, Sandra Hazelhurst, Faye White, and Rex Graham) to discuss gang issues and proclaimed “Enough is enough” what did you talk about? What insights beyond your own collective prejudices did you seek? Did you reflect on the 2009 research produced by the EIT “A report on gang-based offending in Hastings District” conducted by Shona Jones and Kay Morris Matthews? What about the excellent solution focused community development recommendations made there?
Or did you typically simply see ‘the gang problem’ as a criminal issue and rely on the Police for their perspective and call for Stuart Nash – who can hardly stand in a queue without losing his temper – to “do something”?
I concede I’m hurting, and in that I’m angry. I heard your Auckland colleague Phil Goff take a similar stance to your own when confronting recent gun crime in Auckland. I readily acknowledge that the presence of Australian gangs has acted as a force majeure and, driven by international criminal cartels, they have helped facilitate the importation of methamphetamine into our previously clean green land.
I accept that many of my gang member brothers and sisters have become temporarily blinded by the bling of hyper-materialism and have become enrolled in a cleverly dissipated methamphetamine distribution of new groups, new chapters, new gangs.
Just as with Fonterra’s Flying Dutchman the promise of riches is illusory. The wealth will go offshore and all we will be left with is social pollution and the erosion of human capital.
There is another way. Separate out organized crime from poor behavior, the behavior associated both with relative financial poverty and that deep poverty of spirit that leads to misapplied intellect and self-defeating behaviours. Revive the belief in the capacity of community to answer local problems and invest accordingly. Treat gun crime and poor behavior as a public health issue, as a contagion, and establish ready response teams of youth workers and community development practitioners to establish, incident by incident, a cordon sanitaire and a case specific solution. I heard matua Alf Filipaina on RNZ National this morning calling for this type of thing in South Auckland, as I now call for it nationwide, including Wairoa.
Our borders are porous. We won’t beat supply, but we can by our own beliefs and efforts quell demand. But, matua Craig, we need our leadership, people like you to first believe in our potential. Petera Smith hated methamphetamine because he saw its effects. He didn’t hate users, he was simply opposed to its presence on our community. In his memory let us come together and start a national movement to liberate ourselves from use of methamphetamine, from consequential domestic violence, and from child abuse. Let’s collectively do our best to make life easy rather than difficult for our whanau who already live on edge. Let’s start where we are, in Wairoa, in Hawke’s Bay, in South Auckland, in Poneke, in Taranaki, In Aotearoa.
E Petera, moe mai e te toa, takoto, takoto, takoto mai. Brother Denis.
Denis O’Reilly Pa Waiohiki, Hawke’s Bay 26 August 2019.