Hard News by Russell Brown


A Weird Day in the Hood

It was almost as if madness had rippled out from the events at the foot of our local motorway offramp on Friday. Drivers, banished from the Northwestern as police closed the scene, crushed into first Great North Road, then Meola, by the harbour. They tried to make up time through the streets of Pt Chevalier, which connect the two.

A white van rounded a corner so fast I thought it was going to roll. I honked my horn and shouted at the driver to slow the fuck down. A dead kid on top of whatever bad thing had happened on the motorway would be horrifying.

I had unwisely embarked on what was going to be a long trip to the supermarket in Grey Lynn. A woman stopped westbound, allowing me to turn right onto Meola: and stayed stopped. She finally moved on as I drew level with her, and I could see the object of her attention had been an elderly man in some distress. He tried to show a passer-by a piece of paper then abruptly keeled over backwards onto the footpath.

I couldn't have turned to help if I'd tried. Meola was crawling in the Friday heat. I compared notes with the bloke in the opposite lane. He'd come from Penrose. I didn't hurry at the butcher or the supermarket -- where the motorway crisis was all the talk -- but still ran into a queue to get back onto Meola.

The little car in front was full of young adults yelping and smoking ciggies out the windows. The driver kept not moving up as space cleared in front and eventually a woman (someone I'd met professionally, as it happened) swooped up the wrong side of the road to pull in ahead of them. The occupants yelled at her. She jumped out and yelled back at them, then drove off, thunking over the island of the roundabout as she turned right.

It was a pretty weird day in the hood. It eventually became clear how weird. RNZ's reporter broke the news that the dead man on the motorway was not the armed fugitive the police had been chasing. The Herald website reported the man as having been shot by police, then changed its headline.

On One News, a young reporter struck a monstrously wrong tone: "This chaotic car chase -- which some have described as scenes that came straight out of a Hollywood movie." He bragged about how closely One News' "airborne camera" had been able to peek at the victim: "close enough to show his chest covered in bandages. So close in fact, that it's too disturbing to put to air." Right.

He finished with a profoundly inapt bridge from the Friday traffic chaos to what was " also a crime scene -- a homicide for someone whose journey is over." Ouch.

Wendy Petrie then helped with the coup de grace: "Alright Adrian, you've been at the scene all afternoon: how stunned are the people you've been talking to?"

"Well Wendy, people are very stunned …"

Sweet Jesus.

By Saturday morning, police had acknowledged that 18 year-old father Halatau Naitoko had become the first bystander to be killed by a police bullet in New Zealand.

Yesterday, Stephen Hohepa McDonald's lawyer told reporters yesterday that his client had no memory of Friday's events -- or indeed of the five days previous -- and was shocked to learn that a young man had died as a consequence of his actions.

If the further claim that Macdonald was acting under the influence of drugs is true, then it sounds like a particularly nasty case of methamphetamine psychosis. Alcohol might still account for many more incidents of violence, but it's P that produces the real showstoppers. I don't regard it as a defence, and I do not think the courts should either.

If anything, the clamour got louder as the days passed. On Campbell Live last night, the new police minister Judith Collins started well but proceeded to mention herself so many times that a person could have been forgiven for thinking the story was actually about her. Close Up last night featured Richard Neville, who swore that his life had been saved when Armed Offenders Squad officers had fired on McDonald as he pointed a gun at Neville from the deck of his own truck. Police Association spokesman Greg O'Connor piled in as if this was manna from heaven.

O'Connor needs to shut up for a while. Neville is clearly a legitimate, shocked witness, but he can speak for himself. The Police Association PR can wait. By the same token, I was fairly shocked to see Poneke wading in on Sunday to describe the police shooting as "unforgivable beyond belief". It does seem strange that three marksmen could fire five shots from close range and not hit the offender (who seems to have a shrapnel injury, rather than a direct wound). But it also seems more than possible that poor Halatau Naitoko was struck by a ricochet. In those circumstances, I'm prepared to wait before pronouncing on forgivability.

Naitoko's family have the right to speak as they wish on this: it is their own, painful loss. But I don't need to hear from Ross Meurant, and still less from the talkback hordes (yes, I listened to some), especially those putting up racial conspiracy theories. The police didn't choose to kill a brown kid on a hot Friday afternoon. There are three separate investigations now underway into what happened, and they will judge the actions of officers.

Perhaps they will find culpability on the part of the police. But surely, no sane person will debate that the blame for this tragedy will rest overwhelmingly with 50-year Stephen Hohepa McDonald.

188 responses to this post

First ←Older Page 1 2 3 4 5 8 Newer→ Last

First ←Older Page 1 2 3 4 5 8 Newer→ Last

Post your response…

This topic is closed.