Hard News by Russell Brown


Violence in the streets

I still have no idea how much they really meant to hurt us. But they were carrying a softballl bat and an axehandle, and the latter was swung with such force that it broke in half and came to rest in the car. I hate to think what might have happened if we hadn't reached the vehicle. Every window but mine was shattered by the time we roared off.

We took the half-handle to the police station, where the desk sergeant, puzzlingly, told us to get the hell out of his police station with it. It appears it was only by chance that the matter eventually got to court, but, some months later, it did.

It turned out that a group from Hornby had decided to come into the Christchurch CBD and find some punk rockers to beat up. We, who had just left a gig at the Gladstone and fetched ourselves a burger, were the unlucky candidates.

Their defence lawyer, Doug Taffs, solemnly questioned us about our involvement with the punk scene, as if that might provide some justification for the unprovoked attack. (It was a bit bit ridiculous -- we had friends in common and Taffs knew very well who I was.)

What I really remember is that after we'd given evidence, the guys who'd attacked our group (which included the future mother of my children), came up to us to say hello and no hard feelings, as if it were just one of those things. They were the same age as us, about 18 or 19, and in a sense, they were right. Thirty years ago in Christchurch, random beatings weren't particularly unusual. They were even expected. A form of sport.

The people who have been proclaiming since the terrible news of the assault on Jesse Ryder emerged that "New Zealand has a problem" aren't wrong, but it's not a new problem. I'm not sure whether it's much better handled now, though. A friend of mine, a big, gentle Maori guy, got jumped along with his mate after they'd been at SkyCity one night a couple of years ago. The cops wouldn't help them ("Brown guys fighting isn't our problem") or even call them an ambulance.

But for Jesse Ryder, the problem isn't so random. There are members of the public who will have a go at him simply because they know who he is His last "indiscretion", in Napier, with Doug Bracewell, related to a verbal response to some chipping from a stranger. Sometimes, people simply forget the humanity of someone they've seen playing sport on TV. Ask Benji Marshall and a dozen others. In the face of it, this seems a similar case, but much, much worse.

It was inevitable that Ryder's history of alcohol-related incidents would have been shovelled into the breaking news stories of his assault on Thursday morning, but they remained in those reports well past the point that it became clear it was not a bar brawl or a "booze-fuelled incident", at least on the part of Ryder. Dylan Cleaver acknowledges and then scoots right past the criticism in his Ryder backgrounder for the Herald today.

This newspaper's website received criticism from readers on Thursday when it published a list of Ryder indiscretions down the years, the argument being that they were irrelevant, given he was unquestionably the victim of mindless violence.

The criticism is understandable, though context is a delicate and subjective matter. Throughout Ryder's public life, alcohol and his relationship with it have often provided that context.

Ryder was drinking on Wednesday night and whether or not he was sober (eyewitnesses and teammates insist he was), history has not treated him well when he's been out on the town late at night. He has become a magnet for stupid behaviour, his own and that of others. In the coming days, Wellington Cricket will be asked whether they were monitoring Ryder closely enough; whether it was wise to celebrate the end of their season, no matter how low-key, with Ryder in tow.

So even though he appears blameless -- and sober -- in this instance, Ryder is still somehow to blame for merely failing to stay safely locked in his motel? Really? As others have noted, this is the kind of victim-blaming usually reserved for women who have suffered sexual assaults.

Some reports of the assault suggest that the two men arrested in connection with the sickening attack are a father and son (although most reports still talk of an "older relative" visiting the city), and that the younger man's mother was also present. We will presumably find out some disturbing things about this family. And that, and not some magical supposition that Jesse Ryder should somehow have anticipated being beaten nearly to death because we went to a quiet suburban bar on a weeknight, is where we might also find some genuine lessons.

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