Gilbert: National Party’s drug and gang policy is cynical and dangerous

Sociologist and expert on gangs Jarrod Gilbert has responded to National’s gang and drugs policy.

Dr Jarrod Gilbert @NZH: National Party’s drug and gang policy is cynical and dangerous

The history of gangs and politics stretches back to Norm Kirk, who before the 1972 election promised to ‘take the bike off the bikies’. Big Norm never did take the bikes of the bikies but he did get elected. And ever since failed or foolish policies have made way for the fact that the politics of them worked.

Perhaps because this is such an old trick, politicians now have to ramp up the gimmick to get traction. Labour’s Stuart Nash said he would simply ‘crush the gangs’ if elected, but perhaps because we’d heard that so many times before most of us just sniggered. Last time it was Judith Collins saying that gangs were targeting wealthy school children to sell P to. Why wealthy school children? Well, that’s the demographic of her voters, so it made the issue more relevant. The fact there wasn’t a shred of evidence to support the claim was beside the point.

We can roll our eyes at that nonsense, but Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett’s latest effort is far more sinister.

National is proposing to give police powers to search gang members without a warrant. Allowing police the power to march through people’s houses at their will is a power that if targeted against anybody else (the parents of wealthy school children, for instance) would be seen as completely outrageous.

But as Bennett said, ‘some people have fewer rights than others.’ And that’s a statement that should trouble us, particularly when the Prime Minister supports it by saying, ‘it’s good that we don’t have a written constitution it’s enabled the country to deal with issues in a practical way.’

But this isn’t even practical. Far from it. Bennett said on Twitter that ‘scumbag gangs don’t deserve protection’. But the majority of drug dealers aren’t gang members, so why do those scumbags have greater rights than those in a gang?

Gangs are an easy political target, especially in an election campaign.

Also, who constitute a gang member may sound like an easy question, but it isn’t. I’ve been confused for one by police because of my research associations – and I can tell you that having the police target you unjustly is incredibly unpleasant. Furthermore, what if your son is in a gang and he’s staying with you, can your house then be searched without a warrant? How far does the discretion extend? How many times can a gang member’s house be searched without finding anything before such searches are stopped?

That much power vested in police without judicial oversight is concerning but because it says ‘gang’ fewer people will be concerned: at least that’s what Bennett is backing on.

It looks like cynical targeting of voters.

The proposed law will not have any meaningful impact on the drug trade in New Zealand. But it does speak to who we are as a country. Paula Bennett ought be called out in the strongest possible terms for this cynical politicking.

Our country, and the principles of Western justice that underpin it, are more valuable than a political party’s advantage on the hustings.

It’s not that I think we shouldn’t vote for Paula Bennet. I think she should resign.

I don’t know if it warrants a resignation of the Minister of Police – it is a proposal in an election campaign. Voters get to decide whether ministers deserve to be returned as MPs, to an extent.

Many policies proposed in election campaigns never happen.

But this is a very troubling proposal from Bennett, and from National.

6 Comments

  1. Joe Bloggs

     /  September 4, 2017

    Research study after research study localy and overseas has shown that economic depression and marginalisation create the perfect environment for gang activity. In particular economic deprivation – as measured by poverty, transience, overcrowding and unemployment – features heavily in the establishment and growth of gangs.

    Unfortunately what National’s chest-beating and dog-whistle politicking does is to further suppress, disconnect, and marginalise gangs, and fuel exaggerated media reporting and community fears about violence and drugs. And that doesn’t work – never has, never will.

    Look at Queensland’s Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act (VLAD), introduced ion 2013, and described by premier Campbell Newman as “the toughest laws against these thugs this state has ever seen. Indeed, they will be the toughest in the world. They are not designed to just contain or manage the gangs; they are designed to destroy them.” Three years later VLAD was scrapped as a waste of time, effort, and money, which did nothing to counter gang violence and drug dealing.

    Until we dedicate the resources necessary to alter structures of marginalisation, gangs will continue to emerge despite value transformation, suppression, or other community efforts. I’m talking about the most obvious resources – jobs, better schools, social services, health programs, family support, training in community organisation skills, and support for resident empowerment. That’s easy to say but obviously not easy to do.

    • sorethumb

       /  September 4, 2017

      Gangs have a lot to do with belonging (the opposite of diversity).

  2. Yes; we need Law & Order, BUT beating the 40+ years old ‘DRUG WAR’ drum louder, just shows how out-of-date this Govt. really are. Most other OECD countries are moving to a more rational health care approach.. but English & Co. still have their heads stuck in 1970s with their policies !
    IF the War on Drugs was working (as they claim) then use rates would be down & this would not even be an issue. BUT reality shows the opposite; use rates at all time high & prices dropping (showing availability is even greater).

    I still find it unbelievable that Cannabis is still being also DEMONISED by this Govt. when polls show over 66% in recent polls say ‘time for change/law reform’.. proves they are just not listening to ‘We the People of Aotearoa/NZ’ 😦

    • Kevin

       /  September 4, 2017

      Take look at section 3A of the Misuse of Drugs Act:

      3A Classification of drugs
      The classification of a drug under this Act is based on the risk of harm the drug poses to individuals, or to society, by its misuse; and accordingly—
      (a)
      drugs that pose a very high risk of harm are classified as Class A drugs; and
      (b)
      drugs that pose a high risk of harm are classified as Class B drugs; and
      (c)
      drugs that pose a moderate risk of harm are classified as Class C drugs.

      This means that even if you’re responsible cannabis user, you’re classified as a criminal simply because someone, somewhere, might misuse cannabis. In fact, even if no one, anywhere, misused cannabis, you’d still be classified as a criminal based on the presumption that it *could* be misused.

      And that’s why the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs when deciding how a drug should be classified looks at cases of misuse and doesn’t really consider how the drug is used in the real world – responsible users are basically ignored. This means that if a drug was used responsibly by 100,000 users but one user killed themselves as a result of misuse the drug would be classed as a class A drug.

      By the way, reading the section you have to wonder why alcohol hasn’t been classified as at least a class C drugs considering the harm some people get up to when they get drunk …

  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  September 4, 2017

    I am much more afraid of Labour reducing human rights by continually regulating our lives and appropriating our resources, income and opportunities than I am of National’s police targeting me and mine,as possible gang members. Perhaps Dr Gilbert needs a reality check. Targeting gangs may be ineffective but it is hardly harmful. Labour, on the other hand, is both.

    • Blazer

       /  September 4, 2017

      Reducing your rights! Surely you jest. Try the draconian GCSB legislation introduced by..the NATZ.