I was speaking with John Tamihere the other day. I wondered, did he despair every time the papers ran yet another story of “A Maori does wrong”? No, came his reply. The New Zealand psyche has moved on significantly in the last ten years, such that now when one Maori does something wrong, the rest of Maoridom isn’t, well, tarred with the same brush.
I’d like to agree, I really would. Unfortunately I’ve been in too many cabs, and listened to far too much talkback to believe it entirely true. The odd Sunday Star Times poll suggests, methodological doubts aside, many New Zealanders aren’t happy with the perceived privileges held by the tangata whenua.
As I read the Sunday paper, and then the front pages of yesterday’s and today’s Herald, I wonder if police face the same problems when it comes to public perception. There are allegations of a pack rape, subsequent cover-up or botched investigation, and then the elevation of one of the protagonists up the ranks. The case raises a number of questions, and very few of them relate to what happened or did not happen in Rotorua, circa 1986.
For me at least – and I welcome your feedback on this – this latest drama does cast a pall over the force as a whole. If the allegations are true, it shows evil among some bottom ranks, and collusion at the top. There might be a whole lotta goodness in the middle.
I’d love to swallow the “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” line. Unfortunately I’ve heard too many stories, and personally run into too many Cops With Attitude. A relative of mine, perhaps not the most upstanding of citizens, but a nice guy nonetheless tells a great yarn of having his head rammed repeatedly into the panel of the police car that bears the decal “Safer Communities Together.”
I suppose the genesis of my attitude towards police, and vice versa, stems from the legislation they are required to enforce. This is not some “legalise it” post, and I’m hardly the poster boy for cannabis, having not had a smoke in quite some time (never Mum, I mean never). But the reality is that a majority of my friends do, to a greater or lesser extent, indulge in recreational drug use. Drug use of a recreational nature is, of course, against the law. Therefore, police are People To Beware Of.
This is a shame, it really is. It would be a great thing – not least of all because my tax dollars go in part to pay for this service – if I felt able to approach a copper for directions, the time of day, if not a light for my joint. Sadly no, and almost every time I try and extend the olive branch with a friendly “howzit?” I get a look which – in my mind – conveys the message, “Bugger off, you smart little shit.” I dare say this look has been developed after years of taunts from the ever-increasingly irreverent youth of today, but as I say, it’s a shame.
The more I think about the Don Brash speech, and its pernicious sub-text, the more it pisses me off. If I made a list entitled “Issues that shouldn’t become political footballs,” race relations would be right near the top. Unfortunately my list seems to have been leaked to National, Act, New Zealand First and renamed “Political Mileage.”
I walked through Albert Park today on my way down to buy a 2004 diary (January I just wing). They were setting up for the Chinese Lantern Festival this Waitangi weekend, an event I’ve attended for the last couple of years. Thousands now attend, and it’s hardly a secret, but if you live in the City O’ Sails and haven’t been, get there this year. One of New Zealand’s most beautiful parks lit up dramatically is quite something to behold.
As I traipsed through amid the preparations, I couldn't help but think: If having this 2000 year old festival in my town is part of what you're warning us about, then I’m sorry Mr Peters, but I’m going to have to disagree with you.