Hard News by Russell Brown


I'm a Pakeha and you can stick your war

For some reason, Michael Law's latest column, A Pakeha Fights Back, is among the editors' picks on Stuff this morning. Feel free to read it, but you've read it before: it's the one Laws writes about once a month, contrasting decent, middle-class white families with feckless brown ones.

Laws refers to the two-month sentence handed down to a tagger, Randall Grey, by Judge Tony Adeane in the Napier District Court. At sentencing, the judge quoth thus:

"There are some photographs here available to anyone who wants to see them if someone should be inclined to suggest that this has a quality of art, culture or legitimate expression," the judge said.

"Part of it involves nothing more artful than the use of a tin stencil to stencil the word `Comps' repeatedly on a fence that somebody treats as part of their home.

"People treat this as something between an insult and an offence. They do not like it, Mr Grey. It offends people culturally, people whose culture involves the accumulation of attractive property and creating a nice environment," the judge said.

Grey really only has himself to blame: he failed to fulfil his previous commitment to the court to attend a restorative justice conference, pay $75 a week reparation and not to consume alcohol. He paid no reparations and stole a car while on remand.

For Laws, this is a strike back on the part of "middle-class, middle-aged Pakeha," who like to keep things nice. But, confusingly, he also rails against the middle-class white parents of Christchurch, who, he claims, won't let their "felon and feral kids" suffer proper retributive justice, such as would be the case under a "broken windows" policy.

Typically, Laws doesn't have a clue what he's on about when he conflates "broken windows" with retribution. The basis of the broken windows theory is the maintenance of urban neighbourhoods as a means of deterring crime. It's not the same thing as, but is often associated with, the "zero tolerance" policing of New York under the Giuliani mayoralty.

There are some fairly strong arguments (cited in the Wikipedia article for "broken windows") that New York's crime reduction was more a result of other factors, including economic revival and liberalised abortion laws in the 1970s.

But Laws is off one one; complaining about deference to "gays, lesbians, Maori, Pacific Islanders, Muslims, Somalis, liberal wimmin and Greens. Apparently none of these groups can look after themselves without the intervention and protection of the state."

He paraphrases the chief youth court judge in declaring that the "significant majority [of young offenders] have drug and alcohol problems, the collective education of an Austrian cellar dweller and, you guessed it, genetic adherence to an indigenous culture," but continues "I can't imagine Maori are chuffed about that either. Because most of these loser kids have embraced the ghetto sensibilities of LA as much rejecting their own people as Pakeha culture. Certainly most of their victims are brown."

So what exactly is Laws trying to say? It's not clear. His column -- which, for some reason, begins with a fatuous comparison of David Bain with OJ Simpson -- isn't an argument so much as a jumble of criminal clichés in which the victim is inevitably indistinguishable from himself.

The starting point, of course, was Children's Commissioner Kindy Kiro's select committee submission on the Submission on the Summary Offences (Tagging and Graffiti Vandalism) Amendment Bill, in which she pointed out that there was a cultural dimension to graffiti, and that we already have laws against vandalism. The same laws that saw Mr Grey sent down in Napier, in fact.

This isn't the same as supporting taggers, but it did occasion this spectacularly revolting statement from the Sensible Sentencing Trust, in which Garth McVicar declared that "her comments are hugely provocative at a time when a decent hard working citizen is facing a murder charge because of his frustration over this issue."

So the next time I get "frustrated" with Garth McVicar I can come at him with a knife?

Laws' work is a reliable indictment of the folly of filling up the Sunday papers with the blatherings of celebrity columnists. On this occasion, he has surpassed himself by trying to declare a race war.

Well, I'm a middle-class, possibly middle-aged Pakeha. I dislike tagging -- much as I despair of any effort to crap in one's own nest -- yet I've been inspired and amused by good street art. I'm not too keen on the kind of perfectly legal urban developer vandalism that has besmirched Auckland in recent years. But I know the difference between all that and murder and race war.


So, yes, given the SST's efforts this weekend, I'm additionally pleased that the Herald on Sunday was named best newspaper at Friday's Qantas Media Awards. I've been strongly critical of certain HoS stories in the past -- and will doubtless be so again -- but I think Shayne Currie is a good journalist, and I admire the grunty little paper the HoS has become in the past four years. (Just one request: please put Keith Ng's 'Just the Facts' column on the bloody website. Some of us would like to link to it.)

The ceremony itself was quite good fun -- given the state of Bill Ralston when he got up to host it, it could hardly have been a formal affair -- and the recognition of Phil Kitchin, especially for his work on the Louise Nicholas story, was particularly appropriate. Dave Hansford, formerly and controversially of the Listener, won his category and was in the final three for best overall columnist, which was won (cue massed gritting of teeth in the room) by Paul Holmes, who can actually write, dammit.

Public Address wasn't in the money this year: we weren't even a finalist. But it's great to see Kiwiblog and No Right Turn get the profile and I was particularly pleased to see Richard McManus's work with Read/Write Web (far and away the most influential and successful New Zealand-based blog) recognised on the home front with the "best blog" prize. Righto, paying work to do then …

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