by Lindsay Mitchell
I asked my better half, “What is the job of the police?” Quite quickly he responded, “Ultimately, to protect the community.” That’s not bad. I had toyed with, “To enforce law and order,” but on reflection, some laws are ‘an ass’ and regarding ‘order’, police actions during the parliamentary protest [Freedom Village] remain controversial. Why am I grappling with this?
Today police spend much — if not most — of their time policing ‘family harm’ — a euphemism for violence perpetrated against partners and children. Their own annual report says family harm call-outs are the fastest growing type of which there are already almost 500 a day — a 47 percent increase on 2017 we are told.
To assist in their work Police are provided with handouts titled ‘Colonisation … destabilising a culture’ and ‘Urbanisation … destabilising a culture’. After absorbing the hand-outs, the question is posed, ‘Given what you have just learnt about colonisation, do you believe Māori have their needs met in keeping with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?’ One assumes the correct answer is ‘no’ (though it’s kind of weird that an American psychologist’s framework is used alongside the predictable and omnipresent call for tikanga values to dominate.)
Another diagram further explains how the historical trauma of colonisation worsens with each generation:
A couple of decades ago this type of material would have sat unremarked in a reading list for a BA in sociology. In fact, the source for the ‘destabilising a culture’ handouts is a PhD thesis written in 2001 by someone appearing European but citing their tribal credentials. Graduates and their ‘learnings’ have now firmly infiltrated public service agencies across the board.
But what is the takeaway for the police? That Maori perpetrators of family violence are themselves victims? That Maori perpetrators have no personal agency? How on earth can this belief be built into the practice of policing? It is clear how it has been built into the practice of administering justice – lenient sentencing with discounts for sympathetic cultural reports. Perhaps the same teaching discourages police from even delivering offenders for the proverbial wet bus ticket.
As usual I have more questions than answers not least of which is, given half of those convicted of family violence offences are NOT Maori, what’s their excuse??
Never mind. I think New Zealanders are sick and tired of hearing excuses of any hue. We are compassionate people but increasingly reserving our sympathy for the real victims – the robbed, the raped, the murdered. Many though are getting particularly angry at being blamed by dint of ancestry for past colonial misdeeds that give present licence to thugs.
In respect of the police handouts about colonisation and urbanisation, it was Maori who enslaved Maori – not Europeans. No-one forced Maori into the cities. They went in search of jobs, money and excitement. And guess what? Most grabbed the opportunities, along with partners from other races, and became wealthier and happier. Just as their co-inhabitants and more recent immigrants were doing. My parents arrived in NZ in the sixties with meagre savings – no better off than newly urbanised Maori. But they found jobs and made their way. They weren’t wallowing in the fact that their parents and grandparents had worked in coal mines or scavenged. But they both have memories of bitterly unhappy and arguing fathers and mothers the experience of which they resolved to never subject their own children to.
The police propaganda doesn’t explain that most people learn from adversity. That it is beholden on them to do so.
The police propaganda examines family harm and delivers a faulty diagnosis: that Maori offenders have no free will. That their actions are determined by past circumstances beyond their control. We can but await the sixth, seventh and eighth generations of violent offenders.
I don’t buy it. Blame must be laid, in the first instance, at the feet of family violence perpetrators. The principles of personal agency and responsibility must be paramount. On what other basis can an effective policing system operate? No purpose is served by sending police into volatile and dangerous situations with heads full of guilt about their colonial past.
If that was a successful strategy then family harm incidents would be declining. Not the opposite.
Lindsay Mitchell blogs here