Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Gangs Talking Peace, Renouncing Crime, Doing Good – The Bro’s are Doin’ it for Themselves

Gangs Talking Peace, Renouncing Crime, Doing Good  –
The Bro’s are Doin’ it for Themselves
By Kim Workman
Sisters are doin' it for themselves.
Standin' on their own two feet.
And ringin' on their own bells.
Sisters are doin' it for themselves.
Talking Peace – the Mongrel Mob and Black Power
The 1985 Aretha Franklin/Annie Lennox feminist anthem came to mind, as I watched the 3rd Degree programme ‘Rival Gangs Talk Peace, Positive Change.  But in this case it’s not the sisters, it's the Bro’s.  Samantha Hayes interviewed Mongrel Mob and Black Power leaders, who talked about the possibility of peace, renouncing crime and became a force for good in the community.  TV3 has never shied away from presenting an alternative perspective, and Amanda Millar’s documentary ‘Notorious’ on the efforts of the Mongrel Mob’s Notorious Chapter to transform their lives, won her and Alison Horwood the 2006 Premium Media Peace Award.  The Notorious Chapter went on  to play a major role in de-escalating street violence, building pre-school centres, and with Salvation Army support, running drug treatment programmes for gang members addicted to methamphetamine. 
Public Sector Resistance to Peace Initiatives
Denis O’Reilly is right in saying that forging peace has been on the gang agenda for more than 20 years.   In the early 1990’s Mongrel Mob members, led by amongst others, Harry Tam (now a senior public servant) formed the Mob Advisory Panel (MAP), to assist the prisons and police to reduce gang-related violence.  At that time I was Head of Prisons, and faced with the problem of increasing gang violence in the prisons.  The Mob Advisory Panel  were highly effective in identifying the trouble makers, and worked closely with Black Power and Mob leaders, both inside and outside the prison, to de-escalate violence.  Their presence and influence, however,  was not appreciated by some politicians and prison officers, who worked to undermine the initiative.   Prison officers felt that their authority was being undermined by these external peace brokers.  They informed the  media, who  filmed a group of Mongrel Mob members walking into Justice HQ for a meeting.  It resulted in political pressure to curtail the activity, and while we persisted,  the decision to do so was  not exactly career enhancing.
The Gang Initiative to Forge Peace
Over the last decade, the movement by gang leaders toward a more positive life style, supporting whānau, and making a positive community contribution, has gathered momentum.  At the forefront of this movement has been a small (but growing) number of key influencers – and not all of them patched members.  Sam Chapman, (2010 New Zealander of the Year) Roy Dunn, Mark Tipene,  Edge Te Whaiti, Rex Timu, Harry Tam, Eugene Ryder, Denis O’Reilly  come to mind – but there are many others.  The decision to take part in the 3rd Degree programme, would not have been a ‘whim of the moment’ decision.  Negotiations and discussions have clearly reached a point where the two gangs felt confident about making a public declaration.   They were aware  of the risks in doing so, and an opinion piece from the Taranaki Daily News, Gang Deal Sounds All Too Sweet’ , was typical of those who would like to see something positive happen, but smelt a rat. 
What has driven this search for legitimacy and acceptance?. In my many conversations with gang members, there is one factor that is common to all – their mokopuna, (grandchildren).  Many of the founding members had their children at a young age, - the median  age of grandparents in the former Pomare Mongrel Mob community was about 37 years.  At the time their children were born, most of the members were actively engaged in crime, and struggling with a whole range of issues – drugs and alcohol, mental health, poverty, you name it.  But the arrival of the first  grandchild is a defining moment.  It was a time when many gangsters looked   back on their own lives, and the lives of their children, and decide that they didn’t want their mokopuna to have the same experience. 
The Otatara Awakening
It was with that in mind, that in January 2011, Denis O’Reilly and others held a three day hui at the Otatara pa Reserve, near Taradale  to discuss “Fatherhood, Gangs, Drugs and Choices’. 


Known as the The Otatara Awakening’ it was attended by about 40 Black Power and Mongrel Mob affiliates, and facilitated by John Wareham, who heads the Eagle Foundation, based in New York, USA.  John used a handbook with a variety of readings, including quotes from  Plato, Shakespeare, Malcolm X, Frederick Nietzche, Malcolm Gladwell, Jean-Paul Sartre, von Goethe, Claudia Orange, the gospel of Jesus  Christ, and Mahatma Ghandi. 




Following each reading, there was a discussion about the content and its meaning for the gang members, their families and their life stylesOne of the observers  was the local Police Iwi Liaison Officer, who was clearly respected by the Hawkes Bay gang community. 
I was invited as a neutral observer, and  recorded  snippets of conversation, which gave some indication of  their views.  The hui was highly successful, with a number of those attending, being inspired to persist with making changes in their own lives, and those of their whanau and community. 
That momentum has continued; this latest video message holds much promise.  As Police Commissioner Mike Bush observed, not all gangsters trust the Police, and not all Police trust the gangs. 
“Black Power put the kibosh on gang rape 15 years ago – but the Police are still at it”.
Gang Member at the Otatara Awakening 2011
Nor do the gangs expect that they will be embraced unconditionally, and absorbed within mainstream society. 
“I’ve just thought of a new Tui ad - ‘I’m gonna hand in my patch and join Rotary – Yeah right!’
Gang Member at the Otatara Awakening 2011
Nevertheless, there is  a mutual willingness to engage in talks, to explore and support possibilities for change, in order to reduce crime and social harm.  The Gang Leadership acknowledge the value of mutual dialogue.
“If we don’t have a seat at the table, we’re gonna end up on the menu”. 
Gang Member at the Otatara Awakening 2011
The Police Gang Management Strategy
It is an approach absolutely consistent with the Minister’s support for the Police Gang Management Strategy as reported by Andrea Vance  earlier this year, in her excellent article ‘Killing the Gangs with Kindness’ , It was also consistent with Rethinking’s position on gang management.  A positive climate had been created , and an air of optimism prevailed. 
But Not for Long. 
The Problem with  ‘Tough Talk’ 
“It seems to us that the harder we work to gain acceptance, the harder the government works at keeping us at arm’s length”. 
Gang Member at The Otatara Awakening 2011
 The climate for change quickly dissipated, when shortly after declaring conditional support for the proposed change, the Minister of Police and Corrections, the Hon Anne Tolley, in a short video, decided to engage in some public tough talk’ with the gangs.   Announcing that ‘actions speak louder than words’ she made it clear that any support from the Police and the government was conditional on the Gang’s good behaviour. 
She then went on to describe a Mongrel Mob family who through their criminal activity, cost the taxpayer $5m a year – and that they were ‘not dissimilar’ to the gang members who were interviewed by TV3. 
This sort of gut kicking behaviour mitigates against the Police and the Gangs ever having a relationship.  I know the people who were interviewed, and I can assure the Minister that they have absolutely nothing in common with the Mongrel Mob family to which she referred.  Her comment brought to mind a survey Rethinking carried out in the former Farmers Crescent Mongrel Mob community, which showed that within the 30 whanau, three gang members had tertiary qualifications, five were fully employed as helpers within the Taita/Pomare community, and 23  worked as unpaid volunteers in education, health and community development.  
A group of us have been working for over ten years, learning how to bring up our kids, building pre-school centres, doing community work.  And yet we’re still getting kicked around in the process.  What do we have to do to belong?”
 Gang Member at the Otatara Awakening 2011
This sort of public bashing is a major discouragement to those wanting change. 
“I want to climb out of the ditch but I keep asking myself, is it safe out there?”
Gang Member at the Otatara Awakening 2011
 The message from government then, is that you climb out of the ditch at your peril. 
“Let’s face it, we live in a jungle and we have to learn to survive in it.  Right now, we’re safest up a tree”. 
Gang Member at the Otatara Awakening 2011
Why the Tough Talk?
How much faster this strategy could have advanced, if the Minister had acknowledged  those that have worked unrelentingly for change.  Being a politician she will know how much effort it takes to get a bi-partisan agreement about anything. But why deliberately slow the process down?  Those that I have spoken with, offer the following optional  explanations:  
 Option One:  Building a False Perception about Gangs
The video was opportunity to generate fear, and to continue building a false image of gangs. 
Dr Jarrod Gilbert, an expert on gangs,  identified this as one of the critical factors, in an interview with Andrea Vance (Dom Post, Feb 8). 
 ‘‘Politicians for a very long time, largely through cynical politicking, have created a perception of gangs in the public mind that is completely out of kilter with reality. To address them more accurately will seem like anathema to the public. There is going to have to be some sort of education.”

The myth making was evident in a shorter interview with Minister Tolley when she claimed that a third of all prisoners were gang members.  There are currently 8,500 people in prison, which according to her figures, means that there are currently 2,833 gang members in prison.  The Police estimate  there are about 3,500 gang members in total which means that about 6/7th’s of all gang members are currently in prison.  Sorry, that doesn’t compute.   Nor does her claim that gang members are twice as likely to reoffend and return to prison.   Perhaps her Police and Corrections advisers need to start talking to one another. 
Option Two:  Making it More Difficult to Build Trust
Others see the video as deliberately hindering the prospect of building trust.   In the interview referred to above, Dr Gilbert identified a difficulty in gaining trust.   
The gangs have an outlook on life that is completely alien to the middle classes, the bureaucrats in Wellington and to politicians. Therefore, to try and understand them from the outside, and reach them, will be incredibly difficult . . . the gangs  are conditioned to not only mistrust society but to seek to attack it.’ 
There is within the Public Service, a significant number who resist the prospect of engaging with gangs.  Between 2006 and 2008, Prison Fellowship invited up to 30 Notorious Mongrel Mob members to attend and contribute at their Annual Conference.  As the then National Director,  I  was invited for coffee by a senior member of Corrections, who  interrogated me as to my ‘strange’ behaviour, and my relationship with the gangs.  The same official, now in an extremely influential position within Corrections, emailed senior staff late last year, advising that the Department would not support personal contact with gang members, even though it was part of the Minister’s Police Gang Management Strategy.   
Option Three:  Offering Conditional Engagement -  the  ‘Behave =Believe= Belong’ philosophy
A third view, again aimed at hindering progress, was to set conditions around engagement with gangs that were both unrealistic and impossible to meet. 
According to Minister Tolley, the Police were willing to meet the gangs half way, provided they stopped bashing their women, committing burglaries, dealing drugs, being involved in prostitution, kidnapping, and seeing that their children and grandchildren attended school.  She wanted to see more action and less words, before the Police would take this proposal seriously. 
As any criminologist or social psychologist worth their salt will tell you, setting those sorts of conditions before engagement is almost guaranteed to prevent the relationship from proceeding further.  Evangelical churches understand the principle well.  Churches who believe that new converts must behave in order to believe, and only then to belong, have very little success recruiting or retaining new converts.  Those that are successful take the reverse approach; people are welcomed into the new culture regardless of their sin and shortcomings.  As they grow in confidence and accept the new culture, their behaviour changes to reflect that of the majority  community. 
In Rethinking’s  2009 submission to the Gangs and Organised Crime Bill , we describe the Kia Whakakotahi’ project,   which engaged gang parents in the life of Taita College, and reduced Maori student suspensions from 38 in 2007 to 8 in 2008.  The school  trustees chose not to wait until they stopped  offending; or to put conditions around their full participation in the school as parents.   Increased parental  increased involvement in the school saw reductions in truancy, drug dealing, violence, gang rivalry and graffiti by Maori students.  
Option Four:  This is How Politicians Behave At Election Time
Another view is that this is nothing much more than political ‘get tough’ rhetoric as the election approaches.  There is of course, precedent.  The 2005 election was preceded by Phil Goff proposing to ‘treat the gangs as terrorists’. 


  Rethinking took up the offer, with a newsletter article “Treat the Gangs Like Terrorists – Why Not?”  In the same year , John Key was promising Boot Camps,  Three Strikes. Both leaders were strong on the “Tough on Crime” rhetoric.   One theory is that this latest outburst is a government tactic  to capture the punitive vote.  

While all the above may be at least partly true, Rethinking has another view – the underlying driver in this behaviour is consistent with a strongly held value system which supports the ‘criminology of the other’ 
The Underlying Driver – The ‘Criminology of the Other’
The ‘Criminology of the Other’ is the result of two characteristics;
  • The Creation of a Criminal Underclass
  • Exclusion of the Wicked
The Creation of  a Criminal  Underclass
By the 1970’s, both in the UK and New Zealand, the state’s efforts to reintegrate both criminals and other excluded groups began to dissipate.  Over the next 20 years, the state began to separate out those who did not adhere to traditional family values, who did not respect the law, and had an aversion to work.  The idea of an underclass strengthened, described by Tony Blair  as ‘people cut off, set apart, from the mainstream of society whose lives are often characterised by long term unemployment, poverty or lack of educational opportunity, and at times family instability, drugs abuse and crime’. (1)  This description fitted the emerging Māori gangs well.  The UK and New Zealand took the position that while the State had a role to play in tackling the problems of the underclass, responsibility ultimately lay with the poor themselves; an approach reflected in the Minister’s current offer to work with the gangs if they stop offending. 
“It serves current political interest to regard us as an undeserving underclass – and treat us accordingly”
Gang Member at the Otatara Awakening
The problem with identifying crime with a deviant minority is that it then becomes easier to adopt an extremely punitive attitude not only toward those members that commit crime, but those who don’t.  As Nils Christie explains, we tend to demonise those whom we know little about.(2)   In 2001 David Garland predicted the development of a ‘criminology of the other‘ whereby whole groups of people are identified as ‘wicked’ and separate from the mainstream, thus justifying increased exclusion and punishment.(3)   Exclusion reinforces exclusion when we no longer make any effort to understand difference but rather to eliminate the risk it represents.  The current criminal justice obsession with the risk management of offenders, and the government’s increased capacity to control and exclude  the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, feeds into what economists call a ‘vicious cycle’.  This is to the detriment of policies which seek to reintegrate offenders into mainstream society.  This process then results in a society which can justify legislation like the Prohibition of Gang Insignia on Government Premises Act 2013 legislation which breaches the Bill of Rights. 
It’s a basic human right not to be judged by the nature of our association” 
Gang Member at the Otatara Awakening 2011. 
Exclusion of the Wicked
This process also legitimates advice by the former Minister of Police, to Maori Police Officers  that they should not speak to gang members.   Suggestions of this kind  serve to aggravate the situation.  As Bauman points out, spatial separation of the offender from the rest of society leads to a rupture of communication between the two parties, encouraging more punitive feelings. (4)  I  spoke at the same Conference and unknowingly, gave opposite advice. 
In its most extreme form, the assertion of absolute moral standards, and affirmation of tradition, leads to the assumption that gang members are ‘simply wicked’, and in this respect intrinsically different from the rest of us.  They are dangerous others who threaten our safety and have no call on our feelings.  The common response, according to Garland, is one of social defence; i.e. we should defend ourselves against these dangerous enemies rather than concern ourselves with their welfare and prospects for rehabilitation.  There can therefore be no bridge of understanding, no real communication between ‘us and them’.  
The idea of the born criminal was revived in a 2009 speech by the former Minister of Corrections’ speech in 2009,  to a launch of the Prisoner Skills and Employment Strategy, Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility, Manukau City, 7 October 2009 
Some of these prisoners are simply born bad, and nothing anyone can do will
prevent them forging a career in crime and spending much of their lives
behind bars.

The Gangs – Challenging the Status Quo
The difficulty with the current gang initiative is that it challenges a deeply held set of cultural values.  Rather than rely on government intervention, the gangs  want to take responsibility for forging peace, for reducing crime, and supporting their whānau and community.  But they want to do it themselves, with support from the wider community. 
We don’t want a hand-out, we don’t want a hand-up, we just want a hand”
Gang member at the Otatara Awakening 2011
This presents a difficulty for the public sector.  First, it challenges the gang stereotype that has been carefully manufactured by the Police and politicians over the last forty years.  Second, it is a threat to those public servants and criminal justice professionals who would prefer not to communicate meaningfully with gang members.  Third, it weakens the authority and status of those professionals who would prefer to be controlling and managing outcomes for results, rather than having to concede that the Bros are capable of ‘‘doin’ it for themselves’, and are very likely to be more effective. 
Who Should Broker the Peace?
The Taranaki Daily News opinion piece, reported that the Police had offered to broker a peace pact between the gangs.  I’m not convinced that claim is accurate, but I am  reminded of the outcome at the Otatara Awakening.  Black Power and Mongrel Mob members signed an agreement, known as the Otatara Accord .  This agreement read: 
The Otatara Accord, an agreement reached yesterday at the end of a weekend retreat based on the historic Otatara Pa reserve, near Taradale.  The accord reads:
"Having met in wananga, at Otatara, the leaders of the Mongrel Mob and Black Power who are resident in Hawke's Bay, collectively declare the following intentions:
·         To improve our parenting skills.
·          To support whanau ora. 
·          To strive for understanding of each other's issues as a step towards peace on the streets and in the jails."
Let’s just support the Bro’s, and leave the bro’kering where it belongs. 
References
  1. Tony Blair - Speech made at the Aylesbury Estate, 2 June 1999
  2. Christie, Nils, (1977) ‘Conflicts as Property’, the British Journal of Criminology, 17 (1), p. 8
  3. Garland, David, The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society :Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. pp 184-5
  4. Bauman, Z., (2000) ‘Social Issues of Law and Order’, British Journal of Criminology 40(2), p. 208



23 Comments on this Post:

Lindsay Mitchell said...

There is little point in a policy to increase the Maori proportion of the police force if they are then advised not to speak to gang members. Was Collins describing her personal policy or recommending it?

Regarding the 'born bad' sentiment, I don't believe it. But there are too many children born damaged.

Rethinking Crime and Punishment said...

Here are the relevant extracts from the Minister’s speech:

As Minister I have a policy of not engaging with gangs. I won’t even knowingly meet with anyone who I know to be a gang member…… Many believe that to manage gangs, it is first necessary to acknowledge them, to talk to them, to listen to their issues. Ignoring them won’t make them go away which, I agree, it won’t…….The trouble is, we have been talking to the gangs and listening to their issues for decades and have not made a lot of progress. I think it is time we stopped fooling ourselves that the gangs are ever going to voluntarily change their ways.

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