Hard News by Russell Brown


We still died at each other's hand

This month two years ago, there were 10 murders and a moral panic. Police minister Annette King found a mildly unfortunate way of saying that we tend to suffer a high homicide rate in summer and was hammered by National's Simon Power. David Farrar dutifully broadcast Power's response to his crowd. They both took care to ignore the substance of what she actually said. It became the narrative.

I guessing you won't remember those killings off the top of your head. There were some shockers: 22 year-old Saishwar Krishna Naidu was stabbed, trying to prevent a youth robbing his family's dairy in Clendon. Shayne Pita Walker was also stabbed one night in Tokoroa, by a 14 year-old. The body of 18 year-old Michael Hutchings was dumped in the Clutha. Scottish backpacker Karen Aim was bludgeoned to death in Taupo.

Then there are the two you will certainly remember: Bruce William Emery was remanded in custody after the stabbing of Pihema Cameron. And Clayton Weatherston appeared in court charged with the murder of Sophie Elliot.

Although the monthly total was in no way out of line with long-term trends, especially for the summer months, the narrative took hold. Perfectly sensible people became convinced that we were teetering on the abyss.

So what of this summer? Dean Brown, reputed to be a bad bugger, has been found dead in a Taranaki garage. Elizabeth White was allegedly battered to death by her neighbour. On December 23, Pomare Mason's adoptive brother stove in his skull, cut his throat and stuffed him in a wheelie bin. Lola Paraha of Kaikohe died after a domestic violence assault. An unnamed man was killed in Orewa. A 19 year-old was charged the death of Tauranga artist Harry Faulkner. A 15 year-old girl is said to have stabbed her sister at Ruakaka on New Year's Eve.

And the mysterious death of Darren Grace on a yacht at the Viaduct Harbour is still, so far as I can tell, being investigated as a homicide.

I make that eight since Christmas week, with a few alarming instances of potentially deadly violence, including the shooting of a policeman. And yet the Herald is not asking its readers Do you accept the reasons given for the high number of murders?, or Is increased violence damaging NZ's image abroad?, and the Minister of Police is not being held responsible for it all.

The obvious difference between then and now is that most or all of this summer's toll are essentially episodes of family violence: the victims have been known to the accused. There are no courageous shopkeepers or innocent backpackers amongst the dead to make headlines.

And it does seem that Labour is much less inclined to use fear of crime as a political weapon. Ironically, the sequel to Simon Power's flaying of King seems to come from the new Police minister herself, who made an extraordinary attack on prison officers who expressed understandable concern about having to manage prisoners who had no prospect of parole under the government's proposed three-strikes gimmick. Perhaps the release of the revised proposal was actually intended as an inoculation against any summer crime blip.

This much remains: In the summer of 2010, people still died at each other's hand, but we thought about other things, and talked about the weather.

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