Hard News by Russell Brown


About Chris Brown

We should begin by making clear exactly what Chris Brown did to Rihanna in 2009. He has not "been accused of being involved in violence against his partner" as Dame Tariana Turia bizarrely said yesterday. And his actions were not "considered only odious enough to warrant community service" as a hapless post on The Daily Blog claims.

Brown was convicted of felony assault in 2009 on the basis of a police statement that describes a vicious and prolonged attack on his then-girlfriend – biting, strangling and a "barrage" of punches that "caused Robyn F.’s mouth to fill with blood and blood to splatter all over her clothing and the interior of the vehicle." He told her he was going to kill her and it ended only when he fled after someone heard her screaming and called the police.

Brown was wealthy enough to afford the kind of lawyers who could get him a very good plea deal: counselling, community work and five years' probation.

Probation did not go well. In 2011, he "went berserk" after a challenging Good Morning America interview. The following year, he was part of an ugly nightclub brawl in which a number of bystanders were injured. The next year he punched and threatened to kill Frank Ocean in a dispute over a parking space, also verbally abusing Ocean, who had recently come out, as a "faggot".

In 2013 his lawyers negotiated him out of a hit and run charge after an incident in which he was described as highly aggressive and calling the victim a "bitch". In the same year, he launched an unprovoked attack on two men who had tried to join in a fan photo with him, shouting “I’m not into this gay shit, I’m into boxing."

It was this last assault that finally brought his probation into question. His lawyers announced that he would voluntarily enter a drug rehab facility, where his goal would be to "gain focus and insight into his past and recent behavior, enabling him to continue the pursuit of his life and his career from a healthier vantage point". He didn't complete his three-month programme because he was thrown out for "breaking program rules by acting violently."

A judge committed him to another rehab facility, warning that if he left that one he would go to jail. He was kicked out of that one too. And was thus duly sentenced to a year's jail, less the time spent in rehab, and eventually served only half of that time because California's jails are overcrowded with non-violent drug offenders.

This year his probation formally expired. Unfortunately, his violent nature did not. In May, he was charged with battery after he and a member of his entourage beat a man he argued with at a basketball court. Again, the victim suddenly declined to press charges.

Chris Brown may well be sincere in his desire to beat his demons and change his ways. But the idea that he is anywhere near that place now, and that he can credibly act as an anti-violence advocate to the youth of New Zealand, is flat-out ludicrous.

But that's not actually his problem with coming to New Zealand. His problem is that he was declined entry to Britain in 2010, on account of his criminal record, and earlier this year he was also denied entry to Canada. Because he has been excluded from those two countries he is not automatically eligible for a New Zealand visa and would require a special direction under Section 17 of the Immigration Act 2009. So it's not a matter of choosing to ban him, but one of specifically electing to allow him in.

And yet, Kanoa Lloyd makes some strong arguments in her Newsworthy column Chris Brown and Our Domestic Violence Double Standards. Most notably, that such immigration sanctions have been almost exclusively visited on black entertainers: "If you’re white, you’re still welcome. We’re much more certain you’ve learned the error of your ways."

She contrasts the cases of Mike Tyson (denied a New Zealand visa in 2012 over his rape conviction) and Odd Future (ludicrously denied entry in 2011 as a potential "threat to public order") with that of Tommy Lee, who toured here despite having served six months jail time for assaulting his then-girlfriend Pamela Anderson in 1998 (she might have also noted an unpleasant race-tinged assault conviction in 2000 and an alleged assault on a man who tried to take photos of him in 2013).

But she's on less sure ground in implying that Eminem's violent lyrics didn't prevent him touring here only because he's white. Even the officials who banned Odd Future couldn't do so solely on the basis of their work. (Although Eminem was lucky to be able to plead down serious charges in 2000 after an incident where he brandished an unloaded gun at a man he saw kissing his wife.)

Lloyd also notes that Black Sabbath are touring here again this year even though "Ozzy Osbourne has admitted getting drunk and trying to strangle his wife Sharon in 1984. We seem to have let him off the hook for good behaviour."

Well, yeah, we have. I'm not sure a widely-recounted incident (including by Sharon herself) more than 25 years ago (it was in 1989) should prevent Osbourne ever travelling internationally again. I don't think anyone doubts that he is a reformed man.

And whatever we feel about people, it is not just to punish them in perpetuity – hearing Tony Veitch on the radio might well make your skin crawl, but he does have a right to employment. The late Graham Brazier was rightly convicted in 2013 of drunken assaults on his partners (they were not of anything approaching the order of the others described in this post, but they were certainly assaults) but it would have been unfair to have let his entire life be defined by them.

But the legal position is that Chris Brown needs special permission to enter New Zealand. There are reasonable arguments against him being banned – most notably that a ban would merely distract from the reality of how and where family violence happens, which is usually at the hands of ordinary men whose names we never learn.

But if your argument is that Brown should be granted entry because he currently represents a positive role model against violence, then I'm sorry, but your argument is full of shit.

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