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.