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Gangs are not whanau.

Tariana Turia--formerly co-leader of the Maori Party--left politics recently to wide acclaim for what she had achieved in her career, and plaudits for her many supposedly wonderful qualities. I did not join the approbation.

The reason is that TarianaTuria believes that ethnic gangs--such as Black Power and the Mongrel Mob--are just another form of whanau. In fact they are essentially no different from the Capone mob of the 1920's, except they wear stinking unwashed denims rather than pinstriped suits and loud ties.

During my time in parliament I sat behind Mrs Turia. Whenever I made a speech which included references to gangs, I made the point of saying that despite what Turia said, gangs were emphatically not "just a different type of whanau". Mrs Turia would invariably say "Yes they are"--but always not quite loud enough for the Hansard reporter to hear, and put her remarks on the record. I ensured that they were so recorded by drawing attention to what she had said.

Of course it is not just the ethnic gangs who are criminal organizations. With the honourable exception of the Ulysses Motor Cycle Club--whose members are mostly over 50, and have for the first time in their lives the financial wherewithal to buy the large Harley Davidson they had always wanted--all gangs are first and foremost criminal organizations.

What has changed over the past forty years or so is that the motorcycle "clubs" whose members are mostly European have got smarter, and realized that the businesses of drug manufacture and distribution, "fencing" stolen property, and managing brothels goes much more smoothly if they don't attract police attention.

So it is that the Hells Angels, the longest established motorcycle "club" in the country, are now chiefly reported when they organize poker runs and other charitable events to raise funds for worthy causes. Here they also mirror their spiritual grandfathers of the Chicago Mob in the 1930's--Al Capone also ran soup kitchens and other community charities. Like the Angels 80 years later, the purpose was not primarily to feed the needy, but to present a benign or even beneficent face to the public so as to increase the chances of a blind eye being turned to their criminal activities.

Every now and again the mask slips, and the real face of the motorcycle gangs shows, as in the murder of Sgt. Don Wilkinson, who was killed while trying to place a tracking device on a gang member's vehicle. Or there will be arrests and seizures of drugs and stolen property from members of the Head Hunters, the Highway 61 or the Road Knights.

The ethnic gangs which Mrs Turia finds so benign have not been so quick on the uptake. Stories about them still feature brutal rapes and other violent crimes, often committed by "prospects" wishing to earn their patch--the gang's sacred badge of honour. The best known recent case was the murder of Christchurch prostitute Mellory Manning --brutally killed by one or more members of the Mongrel Mob after Ms Manning was abducted off the street by a prospect who had been given that task in order to earn his patch.

For at least forty years politicians on both sides of the divide have pledged to "do something" about gangs. Norm Kirk promised he would "take the bikes off the bikies" in 1972. Upon election, this promise was quietly dropped. Sir Robert Muldoon--not known for his naivete--thought he could channel the ethnic gangs' energy into make--work schemes and other non criminal activities. These never amounted to much because the gangs realized they could make much more money from crime rather than cutting firewood or landscape gardening.

In 2009 parliament took a small tentative step--opposed by the Maori Party, of which Mrs Turia was co-leader --and passed a Bill allowing the Wanganui City Council to outlaw gang patches in certain designated areas of the city. After a legal challenge to the law's validity, and some subsequent refinement, the law is working well, and Police have noted a marked decline in gang violence in the city.

The gang patch bill notwithstanding, politicians largely seem to have given up, and just accept that, like the poor, the gangs will always be with us. When challenged to make them illegal after some particularly horrendous crime, governments across the spectrum have claimed that no free western societies have managed to make such organizations illegal without infringing the rights of the innocent to free assembly. This is demonstrably nonsense.

In Germany neo fascist organizations --whatever they might call themselves--have been illegal since the Second World War. Similarly, the Irish Republican Army and its offshoots have been illegal since the 1920's, although it is fair to say that the government of Eire turned somewhat of a blind eye to "the boyos" for most of last century. Neither Ireland nor Germany are countries known for their repression of the rights of assembly of their law abiding citizens.

Across the Tasman several States have passed gang control laws, the strictest of them seeking to make certain bikie gangs illegal. The laws--particularly in New South Wales--have been successfully challenged in the courts, and politicians are re-grouping before trying to redraft laws which achieve their object while not falling foul of the Courts. In other words, laws making gangs illegal in Australia are very much a work in progress which we should watch with interest. The experience of Germany and Eire suggest the task is eminently possible.

In my view while watching and learning from the Australian experience, we should be doing two things: firstly rigidly enforcing existing laws whenever patched gang members congregate, and secondly our local bodies should "grow a pair" and use their laws to tear down gang fortifications. It is absurd that someone can be prosecuted for felling a tree on their own property but non-complying fortifications at gang houses are put in the "too hard" basket.

The main thing we need to do however is utterly to reject the kind of nonsense about gangs spouted by Tariana Turia and other apologists for criminals--and they include most of our criminologists. Organizations which require its members to commit despicable acts in order to advance through the ranks have no place in a civilized society. Puerile statements by academics comparing the Masonic Lodge or the Rotary Club to criminal gangs ought to be ridiculed for the fatuous comparisons they are.

Put simply and bluntly members of the Rotary Club do not abduct prostitutes or other unfortunates from the streets and rape and then bash them to death back at the clubroom. Gang members--particularly members of ethnic gangs--do. They are a pox upon our society.
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Author:Garrett, David
Publication:Investigate HIS
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Dec 1, 2015
Words:1108
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