New Zealand gangs have a long, vicious, brutal history. It’s important from the start to highlight the sheer brutality of Gang activities on our very doorstep. Gang rapes, homicides, brutal home invasions, stand over tactics, major drug operations, fraud, armed robberies and the list goes on. They also contribute significantly to the supply of all forms of contraband within the walls of New Zealand Prisons. It is difficult to provide a one size fits all solution to the problems that gangs present us as a greater society. Gangs in New Zealand vary in sizes, levels of activity and basic ideologies – the growth of gangs presents us with a myriad of problems, how we solve these problems, is still very much up for discussion.
A gang can represent many things for an estranged, disconnected individual. A brotherhood, a sense of community, a model of cultural replacement for those that have become disenfranchised and at a basic human level, a new family. Gangs, in many cases, are an ingrained, inter-generational part of members lives, and represent some sort of a structured way of life for those that are a part of them. Dr Jarrod Gilbert, in his submission to the 2013 Select Committee sitting on the Prohibition of Gang Isignia in Government Premises Bill, described Gangs as ‘vehicles for social resistance’. Based on this definition one may ask; what is it that gangs are really resisting? Dr Gilbert goes on to state:
“While this country continues to have communities faced with problems such as poor education, overcrowded housing, unemployment, family abuse, poverty and drug and alchohol abuse, New Zealand will always have gangs”
The question then arises – If gangs are a result of poverty and poor social conditions, how do we nullify the growth of gangs within an environment that many are becoming increasingly marginalised within the poverty sub class.
Are there initiatives that could stem the growth of gangs while also making it harder for them to function? If we can pinpoint poverty and all it encompasses as the primary reason for the very existence of gangs, what can we then do to curtail the growth of gangs that are taking initiative in the current circumstances that exist. How can we stop their growth? How can we minimize the influence they have over the criminal underworld, our youth, the drug trade and a variety of other criminal endeavors’ on an increasingly large scale?
In an essay on Gangs and Organised Crime, Dr Greg Newbold, a lecturer at Cantebury University outlined three key strategies/approaches to tackling gangs: prevention, intervention and suppression.
“Prevention focuses on discouraging youths from joining gangs through effective parenting, early childhood education, school activity and after-school programmes. Intervention uses education, work opportunities, counselling and health services to move existing or fringe gang members away from crime. Suppression involves policing and legislation. Suppression has been the most common international approach used since the 1980s. Gang problems have increasingly become treated as law enforcement problems rather than as issues for social agencies or communities.”
Government schemes in the 1970’s attempted to try to actively reduce the growth of youth joining gangs, by providing sporting and leisure opportunities outside of school hours while also implementing programs to ease the transition from school to work life. During the 1980’s millions of dollars were gifted to gang organizations for collective work related initiatives. Some of these funds were well spent on workable initiatives, however it became clear after a while that a large portion of these funds were being used for adverse reasons, such as the beautification of gang headquarters or lavish lifestyles for gang leadership. It is interesting to note that these schemes were implemented at a time when Gangs were still in a relative growth period, membership in gangs has increased considerably since the 1980’s which makes implementing overall initiatives likes the ones above, much harder.
Its pertinent to mention one of New Zealands largest, most powerful and ruthless gangs, the Mongrel Mob. The Mongrel Mob slogan below represents the supposed life cycle of a mobster, while obviously highlighting the mongrel fundamentals of being part of this group.
“Born in a brothel (or Kennell)
Raised in a jail (or Cell)
Proud to be a Mongrel
Sieg fucking Heil!”
Gang members pride themselves on brandishing Nazi swastikas, barking like dogs, and in many cases covering their bodies with mongrel mob symbols including the British Bulldog, often wearing a German Stanhelm helmet. These symbols are there purely to cause offence. There are never ending examples of the gangs brutality and utterly horrifying approach to crime. Recent examples that come to mind are of a 26 year old women in Kihikihi, Waikato, who, along with her young daughter, were threatened – then the former was taken into a bedroom and raped.
It was mentioned to me once that ‘Gangs have an entrepreneurial core’. I believe that this is definitely true. However at the moment, the majority of the gang activity is criminal in nature. In order to allow gangs to expose this entrepreneurial core in an effective, contributory manner, they first have to accept, that their core belief system, structure and way of operating – is defunct, immoral and backward.
Many government initiatives look to address gang membership and gang operations at a macro level. It is my strong belief that gang issues vary from gang to gang. Therefore, focused and concise strategies should be constructed on a gang by gang basis. Each gang has its strengths and weaknesses, these need to be exposed and used to the detriment of the gang in question. These initiatives can not be completely suppressive in nature. There needs to be multi faceted action plans that address the full spectrum of gang life, functionality and operation. This needs to include discussion with gang members and hierarchy themselves.
New Zealand is a free country, we have freedom to associate and freedom of speech and expression. When implementing anti-gang initiatives the government can look to clamp down on the basic human rights of certain individuals, but it needs to then ensure that the even more basic rights that humans, especially children, require are not overlooked. It is the lack of attention to these basic needs, that create the perfect breeding grounds for gangs to flourish, grow and develop.
In conclusion, I found it fitting to once again quote Dr Jarrod Gilbert. His insight into gangs and anti gang endeavor’s was the most comprehensive I came across. This chilling quote provides pertinence to the government anti gang initiatives to date, showing their inadequacy and highlighting the dire need, for a new, refreshing way forward.
“Just as steam is an inevitable result of water being boiled, gangs are similarly resultant of certain social conditions. And just as one cannot stop steam by putting a lid on the pot, gangs will not be countered by efforts to forcibly suppress them; and indeed, the pressure that is built up by such undertakings may cause greater problems than those that were seeking to be solved.”