Every now and then the various streams of our lives seem to conflate, one layer tumbling in on another, old times hurtling back from the past and crashing into the present regardless of how far we may think we have ‘moved on’. In part it may be described as déjà vu, in another, as a set of fresh possibilities. Many of them are scarier than those experienced in the past. I attended Denis (Mossie) Hines’ tangi at Foxton. Ranga, Waki, and I travelled up from Wellington on the morning of the service and joined with maybe a thousand others to say goodbye to the big fella. These two brothers have their own memories of Denis, closer than mine, and have their own stories to tell if and when they choose. I never really mixed a lot with Denis — he was part of a crew that grew out of the ‘Juniors’ and sat somewhat to the side of the socially intense grouping clustered around Rei Harris.
Denis was legendry for his prodigious strength and the displays of violence that went with it. He seemed to be immune to pain. One night he got hit by a big red bus outside the Tramways and just seemed to bounce off, gather himself up, and carry on as if this had been incidental.
Another time — early one weekday morning, around, say 8.00am — Denis and his crew were down at the Panama Hotel, then on the corner of Vivian and Taranaki Sts. These were the times when Licensing laws had just changed and various publicans were trying out different mixes of opening hours to suit their patrons — railway workers, seamen, and those on shift work, as well as strippers and working girls. Use of ‘rollies’ (rophynol) was endemic. The jailers of those days used rollies as a behaviour management tool to calm down the difficult members of their muster, whereas the boys essentially saw them as recreational substances. It was regarded as a mutually satisfactory exchange. However, when the guys were released from prison they had developed dependencies on the drug, so they’d get a script — often going directly from Mt Crawford to the Outpatients Clinic at Wellington Hospital — save half for themselves, sell the other half, and go on the piss. These were possibly some of the factors that led Denis and a crew to be in the bar of the Panama at 8.00am on a weekday morning. A group of masked guys, armed with batons and bars, suddenly burst into the pub and attacked Denis and crew and gave them the bash. There were no cell phones then but it didn’t take long to get word of what had happened and so we all trucked down to back Denis and the boys up. At that stage we were all ‘Black Power’. No one present had been able to identify exactly who the attackers were. Denis had copped an iron bar across the head and had a big red and purple weal down the side of his face. He was furious (on reflection, it may have been a lesson he learned well because in later years it was a style of ‘hit’ he himself perfected). ‘What happened?’ I asked. “The fucker hit me with a bar” he said, and pointed to the undamaged side of his face.
Another occasion I recall, fuelled by a rollies and alcohol session at the Bistro Bar, was the bashing and subsequent death of Ian Caisley. Waki was arrested for the murder. The famous Mike Bungay was Waki’s lawyer. Mike rang me and asked me if I could get Denis Hines to meet with him, not at his office but at his ‘pied a terre’, an apartment on the Terrace. Denis and I duly arrived. Mike was very affable and I think we may even have shared a whisky or two. There was a bit of small talk and then Mike came to business. He turned towards Denis. “Your friend Mr McKinnon has been charged with murder, Mr Hines. I intend to subpoena you as a witness and I will put it to you that you killed Mr Caisley. What would you say to that?” Denis looked straight at him. “If you say that Bungay I’ll come for you with a shotgun.” Bungay gave a wry smile. “Come now, Mr Hines” he said, “I’ve been threatened by real criminals” and they both fixed each other in an unflinching gaze, old bull versus young bull. Bungay broke the stare first, and smiled cordially as he ushered us out. Bungay never advanced his suggested line in the trial, and Waki was convicted and served a life sentence for murder. For my part, once Denis had applied the inevitable standover to test me out, and found I wouldn’t buckle, we became at least mutually respectful — it would be an exaggeration to say ‘friends’. He was intelligent. Our view on gang life differed. I saw Maori gangs as a social phenomenon — a by product of colonisation, urban living and a consumer society — or something like that. Denis saw all gangs as a criminal possibility. Denis is often described as the founder of the Nomads. He was always its natural leader, but in reality at the time of the formation of the Black Power Nomads in 1977, I think Denis was in Mt Crawford, a common enough residence for him at the time. The key player was probably Zip Julian (see blog ‘Space at the Edge’, May 2005) and a then ‘breaking away” crew of the Wellington Black Power, who had more or less been grumbling since 1976.
After the closure of Walton House a number of the bros were living in Aro St. The pro-social and politically conscious line that the Wellington Black Power had adopted since 1972 was simply not ‘gangsta’ enough for these brothers, and they wanted to pursue a rougher and seemingly tougher lifestyle. The debate as to whether we should be an organisation focused on criminality or be an organisation that is focused on social resistance and social justice occurs still. The recession has brought the tension to the fore again. When I joined the Wellington Black Power we all worked, and worked hard too, in the building industry, pouring concrete, and in freight cartage. Our guys helped build the motorways and even the Beehive. There was crime — disorganised crime — mainly street violence, sometimes theft and car conversion, and until it was banned, rape — the ‘block’ — and this generally flowed out of booze induced behaviours. Essentially we stuck together as defence against the Mongrel Mob, the V8’s and the Satan Slaves. Things began to change with the declining economy and the ‘oil shock’. Zip and his crew founded the Black Power Nomads in 1977, and when Denis came out of jail it was like a millennial event — the natural boss was at the helm. By 1987 the Nomads had left the BP altogether, dropping the Black Power rocker and becoming the Nomads New Zealand. Denis was in jail when this occurred as well. When he came out in 1987 he was still wearing his Black Power Nomads patch. The rest, as they may one day say, is history.
In any case the tangi for Denis Hines was a gathering of a diverse brotherhood — I can call it that — and I ran into a number of old foes and friends, leaders from different crews, many of them, like me, showing their age and the impact of lifestyle.
The spread of representation was incredible, not only geographical but across the spectrum of New Zealand gangs, the Hells Angels, Black Power including Mangu Kaha, from the four winds of the North Island and also representation from Te Waka a Maui, various networks of the Mongrel Mob, the Headhunters — Big Bird’s (Bill), Denis’ brother’s crew — and of course the Nomads. The various hierarchies were present, signifying not only respect but status in terms of Denis’ unquestionable rangatiraship. There were many others too, friends and family, previous members of his cohort now having made other choices, dressed in civvies, looking healthy, and leading achieving lives. And then there were the Police, gathering intelligence. For some of them it would have confirmed that there is a ‘top table’ a shadowy organised criminal conspiracy that plans and conducts crime throughout the country. Indeed there are proven cases of ‘cross gang criminal transactions’ but in the main I have found these to be networks of individuals rather than the gangs themselves, and to my knowledge there is no such grand commission. For others, in the Police intelligence section, there may have been a short gasp of indrawn breath when, on looking at the generally soft and respectful mood of the gathering, the thought ‘what the fuck would happen if these guys came together?’ had crossed their minds. The funeral service was as eclectic as the congregation. The tikanga of the hapu had been firmly laid down and was respectfully observed by all the crews — it was a feature of the day to hear the representatives of each gang speak fluent Maori, and be backed up in haka or waiata by their members present. The liturgy itself was fluid, funny, rambling perhaps. The Ratana Minister conducting the service was himself a former convict and he shared his own story as we meandered through the programme. We paused to pray. I reflected on Denis’ death, alone, away from whanau, dying of cancer, not in a hospice or even a hospital, but in a prison cell. Denied, I presume, those little but frequent comforts we normally extend to the mortally ill. We are creating a merciless penal system. With the reality of long and sometimes interminable prison sentences upon us get used to more whanau and friends dying in jail. With the planned over crowding of prisons through double bunking and the re-opening of a substandard prison facility such Mt Crawford, get prepared for unhappy and violent institutions. Consider the subtext of the message we send when we contemplate locking people up in facilities constructed of shipping containers. With our ‘crush and crate ’em’ philosophy we will reap what we sow. In any case allowing Denis Hines to die in such a way means that society has surely had its fill of vengeance, and it may help the Lord forgive him for his sins and let his bones lie at peace in his ancestral turf.
Despise not, O Lord, the work of Thine own hands And let light perpetual shine upon him…
James K Baxter Lament for Barney Flanagan
Reflections over, the Minister invited mourners to contribute, to speak or offer a prayer. Eugene had covered for the Black Power by delivering his whaikorero at the powhiri. Because the officiating Minister had referred to me a couple of times I came forward to give my offering. I gave my mihi to Denis, following Hemi’s form, and then, thinking of the big fella’s dry sense of humour I offered this as my memorial prayer:
Requiem for Denis Hines
So, perhaps promoted by the recession, the use of P, and the insistence by the Police that gangs can only be “organised criminal groups”, the pro-social Maori vs criminal gangsta debate is running again. A school of thought is emerging. Why listen to an old soft cock like me trying to advance a pro-social line when it is apparent that the Government simply wants to crush and crate? If gangs are to be outlawed, members given differentially severe sentences and denied the normal rights of citizenship, then why not go for broke? If the cops and the politicians only want to crush gang members and crate them up in shipping containers then why not give them what they want, become full on aggressive gangstas and go out in style? Christchurch paraplegics aren’t the only ones thinking like this. Eerily, and, as if in some misplaced tribute to Mossie, his own guys look to have demonstrated how easy it is to tumble into mayhem; bashings, shootings and a firebombing in the wake of his wake. Seven have been arrested. They’ll figure it out. Just to bring it to front of mind for me how quickly these outbreaks of crazed behaviour can spread, a week later, after a kafuffle at a local Hawke’s Bay supermarket between what was said to be Black Power and Mongrel Mob groups, some jerk did a drive past and fired off a shot outside my home. These are the seeds of tragedy. The upside is that nowadays, at least when these events occur between the two big Maori gangs, the Mob and Blacks, a process of mediation kicks into place. This is a result of the good leadership of Dr Pita Sharples the Minister of Maori Affairs who early in his term of Government asked the leaders of these Maori groups to step up to the mark and walk beside him in bringing peace to the streets. There are now a team of committed leaders from both sides of the fence that are prepared to sort out the crap and ensure accountability on the part of those that stir it up. But, if the State is so convinced that ‘crush and crate’ is the only way to deal with our street gangs, then who knows the eventuality.
You might recall back in 1998 that there were widely broadcast political calls throughout Europe and the United States for a ‘drug free world’ by 2008. London has just been declared to be the ‘cocaine capital’ of the world, there are reports of increased production of cocaine in the Andes, and record crops of opium in Afghanistan. So much for that. Despite this, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs argues that 100 years of prohibition has ‘contained’ the world’s drug problem. Hmmm. Here in the lovely land of Aotearoa there seems to be a shitload of P around. Reclassification of methamphetamine from Class B to Class A doesn’t look to have had the desired effect. Although there seems to be current high availability of P the research indicates a steady although small trend downwards. This must be tempered by the reality that seizures at the border remain high and, in fact, look to be increasing. Multiply everything that is seized by four to get some idea of the volume hitting the streets. Analysts like Dr Chris Wilkins tell us that we have moved from a P epidemic to an endemic stage — that is, there are fewer new up-takers of P although those addicted are using more.
This intimates a sort of ‘product life cycle’, in which we may be in, or approaching, ‘market maturation’. At this point of the cycle the demand for the product would be expected to begin to decline, unless of course the marketer intervenes with a ‘product re-launch’, new packaging or features, maybe a cheaper price. Chris Wilkins is about to undertake another round of research amongst users, so it will be interesting to see if we are simply seeing a temporary spike in the P market. The P trade is certainly dynamic. There is a suggestion that the ‘cooking’ side of the P industry has syndicated — cooking ‘schools’ may have been organised to expand the production capacity and to spread the risk. We may be seeing an increased uptake in the use of hypodermic syringes amongst Maori and Polynesian P users — if so it’s a new and serious trend. Maori have generally avoided using needles so accessing needle exchanges and other harm minimisation services is not part of the Maori drug user culture. Not only does this have implications for the spread of infectious diseases it also increases the possibility of that Maori P users might be attracted to heroin — I’ve always considered that it was the abhorrence of the needle that tended to protect the Maori drug using communities when ‘horse’ was being used in the 70’s — heroin enables a ‘come down’ as a contrast to the go fast of P. The Prime Minister has been listening to National Party supporter, ex-policeman and anti-P campaigner Mike Sabin. Mike is behind the Stellar Trust, an anti-P lobby group, which recently had its founding dinner at Sky City in Auckland. It was a good choice of venue as some of the biggest P deals yet recorded in NZ took place there. Mike promotes a mixed response, emphasising education and recovery services alongside policing. He also has personal experience in how difficult it is to caution young people against risky behaviour and has tasted the frustration of being disobeyed. His own lad, already suffering a head injury, insisted on playing a game of rugby against his father’s instructions, and Mike’s worst fears were realised when the boy suffered further head injuries. Telling people not to do things doesn’t always work. Here’s to the lad’s steady progress and full recovery. The PM’s attention on P is obviously welcome — having the top man on the case is always a boon to a cause. In New Zealand the Ministry of Health has developed a unique approach to building community resilience against use of illicit drugs, and illicit use of licit drugs, by engaging communities in local action. In this context ‘community resilience’ means ‘handling problems’ at a local level, getting through times of trouble without freaking out, and minimising the harm that these recreational substances cause. P isn’t the worst thing in the world and if someone you love is using P it’s not the end of the world either. But hell, no one I know has played with P without causing grief to themselves and others. My observation to date is that it’s not a question of ‘if’ P will bite you in the arse, but ‘when’. It’s apparent that on any balanced score card of collective harm, booze and ciggies do more harm in terms of poor health, violence and road carnage than P. We try to mitigate the harm of drugs by providing good no-hype information and ensuring legislative control around the sale and use of these substances. There are a number of other popular recreational drugs, ganja, acid, ecstasy and so forth, and I might get a mixed response around efforts to cap them. But if there was one substance used in Aotearoa, as a recreational drug that it might be possible to get broad agreement that we can do without, surely it would be P? I’m sure that even my brothers who continue to use, would on reflection, say that P has brought them neither joy or wealth. Let’s do without it bros. I look and work for the day when there is no demand for P in Aotearoa, and when our borders are secure enough that the substance and its precursors can’t get through so there is no supply. Dream on, eh! You’ll see it when you believe it.
Dr Pita Sharples created brouhaha when he suggested that Maori should get open access into Universities (as opposed to open access into jails). Pita wasn’t arguing for easy marking or reduction of academic standards for degrees or whatever, just a reframing of the possibility that Maori might belong in Universities as much as the rest of us — rather than just in jails. It was called an outrageous suggestion, an example of the insatiable desire of Maori for special privileges (die younger, earn less, be in jail more, yeah right!), racist even.
There is a perception amongst New Zealanders, maybe a prejudice, that Maori are trapped in the pathology of failure. Crikey, the most revealing thing about the canard presented by that rugby playing French Bastareaud was that when he alleged that he was bashed in the street by a crew of Maori and Polynesians, many people, including the Mayor of Wellington and even the Prime Minister, seemed to react as if was a typical even predictable scenario. The howls of indignation that followed more truthful revelations though, have been about the insult to New Zealand Inc., rather than to the Maori and Polynesian communities. So we are quick to dump yet reluctant to help set right. This notion called New Zealand Inc, the aggregated state, is rolled out from time to time to justify taxpayer investment in mega events like the America’s Cup and the Rugby World Cup and now, bizarrely, at a time of recession, a concept called ‘party central’ for Auckland. (Note to John: Invite the Nomads). What about if we apply the notion of New Zealand Inc to the negative spend and devaluation of human potential, implicit in our criminal justice system? What if we factored in the economics and the negative multiplyer, what then! We continue to invest heavily in crush and crate rather than “lift” and “enable”. Justice Minister Simon Power stated at the time of the Budget that too many Governments have focused on ‘the prison van at the bottom of the cliff’. He said its time to address the underlying drivers of crime rather than the criminal justice system’s response to it. That said the Budget provided:
- $385.4 million to increase prison capacity…through double bunking (“planned overcrowding”) at five prisons and plans for additional capacity
- $182.5 million for more Police
- $152.9 for more Community Probation and Psychological Services capacity to manage more offenders
- $103 million to improve quality of parole and home detention management
- $61.3 million to increase Courts’ (criminal) capacity in Auckland
- $16.3 million to improve fines collection
- $10 million for Tasers
- $9.8 million to boost Court security
- $2.3 million to introduce offender levy for victims
- $600,000 for additional funding for the Independent Police Conduct Authority
It’s often said that if you want to know where your real priorities are look at the stub of your cheque book.