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Wanganui: a Laws unto itself

Written By: - Date published: 10:03 am, September 4th, 2009 - 45 comments
Categories: law and "order" - Tags: , ,

The Wanganui District Council (Prohibition of Gang Insignia) Act 2009, which prohibits the display of gang insignia in a public place, so clearly infringes of freedom of expression and association that it’s almost as though it was made up as an exam question for law students in a Bill of Rights class.

The Act defines ‘gang insignia’ to include any so-called ‘representation’ commonly displayed to denote membership of or support for a gang. By my reckoning, that could render an outfit of red, black and white clothing ‘gang insignia’ of the Mongrel Mob, or yellow, black and red ‘gang insignia’ of the Tribesmen.

The Council is also empowered, at any time it sees fits, to classify any other organisation, association or group as a ‘gang’, but there’s no hint as to when or why an organisation might be designated a ‘gang’ – the Council has apparently boundless discretion. So (and, given Wanganui’s mayor, this worries me) the Wanganui Council seems to have carte blanche for limiting the movements and activities of any group it takes a disliking to.

I think we should be concerned that two significant democratic freedoms expression and association are now contingent (at least in Wanganui) upon the Wanganui Council’s whims. Especially since there’s no real evidence this law will even achieve its goal of reducing gang crime.

Oh, and this isn’t just a Wanganui thing. Looks as if Timaru likes the idea too.

45 comments on “Wanganui: a Laws unto itself ”

  1. Principessa 1

    Those little green and blue Girl Guides seriously tick me off- what with them waving their chocolate biscuits in my face when I’m trying to do my shopping. Who do they think they are- do they think they own the town square or something? They move around in packs with their “branding” looking all smiley and stuff. It makes me sick. The should all be locked up for breaches to child labour laws.

    • Pascal's bookie 1.1

      Too right. And don’t get mestarted on those menacing bands of militarised lunatics that come christmas time sprout like mushrooms on street corners ‘soliciting’ money whilst assaulting our eardrums with brass band renditions of so called carols.

      • Rex Widerstrom 1.1.1

        I think you’re on to something, PB.

        Lhaws is a closet Mormon and he’s limiting the competition.

        The only way we can strike back is with a ban on shiny suits and bicycles across the rest of the country, so Whanganui becomes a Mormon enclave, the streets gridlocked with bicycles and everyone fighting over who gets to talk about Jesus and who has to listen.

        At least then the Mhayor might have to adopt the protective underpants and relinquish the “leave nothing to the imagination” lycra. That alone makes it worth doing… watching him jogging by is akin to seeing someone on their way to drown a very, very small kitten in entrapped in a plastic bag.

  2. snoozer 2

    Is it just me or is there a racist element underlying everything that Laws does?

    Seems like everything he’s done has been built on tapping into anti-Maori sentiment.

    • Swampy 2.1

      Laws is two things. A fool who is tapping into the rigid monocultural conservatism of small towns like Wanganui, and a mayor who has to deal with significant social problems in his city that are caused by liberal laws passed by Parliament who has abrogated its leadership responsibilities.

      The second part is most relevant as, although influenced by the first, many similar measures are and have been enacted around the country in response to the same kind of problems that are happening nationwide.

      The biggest problem for mayors is they have no judicial powers unlike the Government so I expect a lot more of these problems will be brought back into Parliament to deal with as this one has been.

  3. Tom Semmens 3

    It is poor, working class New Zealanders who suffer most at the hands of gang violence and intimidation. Why on earth is a left-wing blog protecting these criminals? Is it just because you don’t like Michael Lhaws? It is all well and good to sit about in a trendy inner city suburb and hand wring about abstract attacks on freedom of expression, but that doesn’t cut much ice with the poor people who are being terrorized by these street thugs. They want action, and on this issue Lhaws, for all the wannebe right wing demagogue he is, is more in touch with the thinking of working class new Zealanders than many on the left.

    Somehow German democracy survives having laws than ban Nazi organisations. Most European democracies have laws that allow for prohibited criminal organisations like the mafia or the IRA or ETA. I see no reason why we can’t have such laws here to get rid of the evil canker of criminal gangsters. If Lhaw’s law is the first step on that road then I say good on him.

    • Eddie 3.1

      It is poor, working class New Zealanders who suffer most at the hands of gang violence and intimidation. Why on earth is a left-wing blog protecting these criminals?

      A left-wing blog is publishing a guest post from a reader who has human rights concerns about a piece of legislation. It’s not an official view. If you want to write something in support of the law from a left-wing persepective then flick us a guest post and we’ll publish that too. Broad church, comrade.

    • Draco T Bastard 3.2

      I think the post is more about the council/government stepping on everybody’s rights rather than about the gangs themselves. Sure, make the criminal organisations illegal but this isn’t the way to do it where the council has enough leeway to pronounce any organisation that upsets it a “gang”. They really need to prove that the organisation is up to illegal activities and then ban it and any association with it.

      • Pascal's bookie 3.2.1

        And ahem, are they banning the patches from the city, or just telling the gangs to keep their patches in the bloody ghetto where they belong please and stop making mainstreet look unsightly.

    • killinginthenameof 3.3

      A gang patch ban is just petty populisim, and does nothing what so ever to address the problem. Really Laws is just protecting his own position, at the expense of actually doing something to solve the real problem, which is violent crime. discusting.

    • Swampy 3.4

      Good point. In order to have these “human rights” our Parliament passes laws that do away with public order and discipline and weaken the justice system.

      So that these “human rights” can be exercised by an extremist minority of people who would have formerly been classified as criminals.

      But of course other kinds of criminals get away with crime more because the justice system is so weak that people are often not locked up like they would have been in the past. The youth justice system is weak too and so kids grow up in these gangs that would not have been tolerated in the past.

  4. RedLogix 4

    Well like Tom I’m not so sure that banning gang patches is such a bad thing. There is no way we should be defending criminal gangs who prey on the poorest in our communities. While I can understand that there is potentially a freedom of expression issue here, I’m not sure that this trumps all the harm and misery that gangs cause.

    I’m struck by the similarity here between this ‘banning of gang patches’ and the ‘S-59 Repeal’ issue. Both are largely symbolic measures. Our guest author notes, Especially since there’s no real evidence this law will even achieve its goal of reducing gang crime., which is strickingly similar to the ‘banning smacking will not have any effect on real child-abuse’ argument. Which at a purely literal level was always a valid, if narrow, argument. The real purpose of both pieces of legislation is to de-legitimise an undesired behaviour… in one case the all too frequently whacking and hitting of children, and in the other, the long history of vile, parasitic and initimdating behaviour of gangs.

    While petty consistency is the hob-goblin of small minds, I’m persuaded that this goes beyond the mere petty. Logically if we are to support the intent of the S59 Repeal, we also have to accept the same purpose for this legislation.

    The difference of course is that while the S59 Repeal was a broad measure that impacted on all families and parents and provoked massive resistance, the Prohibition of Gang Insignia Act selectively impacts only a small minority of one racial group… and the majority will happily accept it.

    • Pascal's bookie 4.1

      A couple of points,

      You don’t normally have a right to hit people, but you do have a right to wear what you want.

      Gangs aren’t exactly seen as legitimate at the moment, which is why it is an easy enough matter to legislate against them.

      • RedLogix 4.1.1

        Pb,

        but you do have a right to wear what you want.

        Again not an absolute right. For a start we are required to wear a certain minimum covering in public… although I accept that’s pretty tangential argument… it does establish that society already imposes some restrictions around clothing.

        More compelling to my mind would the huge reaction in France when they banned the wearing of Middle-Eastern burqha’s in schools. Again many liberals argued the ‘people should be able wear what they like’… but underlying this was the intent to reject what the burqha stood for, a deeply repressive ‘honour system’ that hugely oppresses millions of women.

        No-one cares a rats-patui about the actual gang insignia themselves, it’s what they stand for that creates concern.

        • Quoth the Raven 4.1.1.1

          society already imposes some restrictions around clothing. Yes and it is not the place of government to do so FULLSTOP. There shouldn’t be any laws requiring people to wear a “minimum” of clothing. There shouldn’t be any laws against the wearing of burqhas:

          The feminist writer Joan Wallach Scott, discussing the affair in The Politics of the Veil, notes that it was at this point that the media focused on the story of two girls, the Levy sisters, who had converted to Islam and chose to wear the hijab. What was interesting was that they were under no social pressure to convert. Their parents were atheists, and the father didn’t approve of their conversion. But, seeing the hysterical media response, he suggested that his children might decide for themselves if they wanted to abandon their faith. He expressed astonishment at the attitude of the ‘Ayatollahs of secularism’ who wanted to boss his kids about. That this was the chosen symbol for the media campaign was telling. It would seem to indicate something about the complexities of faith, and of identity. It would seem to tell against the simplistic wisdom according to which the ‘foulard’ (or ‘le voile’ as it was increasingly called) is imposed by a patriarchical family. It certainly doesn’t support the spurious racist conspiracy theory that Islamist troublemakers are simply using the garment to create “Muslim ghettos” and advance a state of conflict with “the West”. But that isn’t how it was received, and the ensuing debate corroborated the ultimate decision to ban the headscarf in French schools – a net loss for personal liberty, and for secularism at that, which was cheered as much by the far left as by the far right. It didn’t maintain the state’s neutrality as regards religion; it essentially said that Islam is incompatible with the Republic. It increased the state’s interference in personal affairs. The justification for such interference was that the headscarf was too conspicuous a symbol of Islam, and therefore a kind of proselytism – not just for Islam, it was claimed, but for jihad. As Scott puts it, the garments are seen as “enemy flags” in the Republic.

          and as to Gang patches, I’ll rephrase Voltaire: “I may not agree with what you wear, but I will defend to the death your right to wear it.’

          Frankly I wouldn’t care if you walked down my street naked with a dildo strapped to your head. I just don’t give a fuck.

          • Maynard J 4.1.1.1.1

            If you had your way we could hold a referendum to change the name to Wang-anui.

            • Rex Widerstrom 4.1.1.1.1.1

              Yes, well the whole “there shouldn’t be any laws requiring people to wear a “minimum’ of clothing” thing certainly means there’d be a lot of wangs in Wang-anui. As opposed to the present situation, wherein there appears to be one absolute cock.

          • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1.1.2

            Rules and regulations are a normal part of society. Without them society falls apart because a few people will always believe that they can do what they like no matter the consequences or morality of it.

            That said, I agree that banning the patches is going too far. Ban the gangs as criminal organisations and the patches are banned by default. This, of course, produces other problems:
            1.) The criminals will go further underground making them harder to track and
            2.) result in even more covert police operations.

            I still think banning the gangs is a good idea.

            • Lewis Carroll 4.1.1.1.2.1

              A short direction
              To avoid dejection,
              By variations
              In occupations,
              And prolongation
              Of relaxation,
              And combinations
              Of recreations,
              And disputation
              On the state of the nation
              In adaptation
              To your station,
              By invitations
              To friends and relations,
              By evitation
              Of amputation,
              By permutation
              In conversation,
              And deep reflection
              You’ll avoid dejection.

              Learn well your grammar,
              And never stammer,
              Write well and neatly,
              And sing most sweetly,
              Be enterprising,
              Love early rising,
              Go walk of six miles,
              Have ready quick smiles,
              With lightsome laughter,
              Soft flowing after.
              Drink tea, not coffee;
              Never eat toffy.
              Eat bread with butter.
              Once more, don’t stutter.

              Don’t waste your money,
              Abstain from honey.
              Shut doors behind you,
              (Don’t slam them, mind you.)
              Drink beer, not porter.
              Don’t enter the water
              Till to swim you are able.
              Sit close to the table.
              Take care of a candle.
              Shut a door by the handle,
              Don’t push with your shoulder
              Until you are older.
              Lose not a button.
              Refuse cold mutton.
              Starve your canaries.
              Believe in fairies.
              If you are able,
              Don’t have a stable
              With any mangers.
              Be rude to strangers.

              Moral: Behave.

            • Quoth the Raven 4.1.1.1.2.2

              Rules and regulations are a normal part of society. Without them society falls apart because a few people will always believe that they can do what they like no matter the consequences or morality of it.
              Yes and no. Societal norms are “a normal part of society”. Like the societal norm of wearing clothing in public. The question is whether you want to put the coercive power of the state behind those norms. I don’t.

              I know I flood this site with anarchist links, but others have argued the points far better than me: A society based on love.
              Decoupling society and State.

            • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1.1.2.3

              The question is whether you want to put the coercive power of the state behind those norms. I don’t.

              Actually, it’s more a question of being able to get rid of them. IMO, you can’t because some people will abuse the idea. No rules = no rules and I can do what I like rather than the No rules = I should be considerate of others and the environment. The latter is what I think you’re trying for but the former is what you’ll get. Admittedly by a minority of people but the amount of damage they could do is far more than anybody is willing to pay for.

              No rules are perfect but we can work on that.

            • travellerev 4.1.1.1.2.4

              QtR,

              Thanks for that link very nice writing indeed.

        • Pascal's bookie 4.1.1.2

          The France thing is complex though. The arguments you raise were certainly tossed around, but IIRC think the ban was actually about enforcing an already existing policy against religious insignia in state schools. Or perhaps extending it to Muslim dress codes that had not been foreseen when the policy was initially drawn up. The actual argument was about the secular state, not women’s rights.

          I disagree that this is not about the patches per se. The argument as I understand it is that the patches have such mana within the gangs that it is apowerful place to hit them. I’m not convinced that the ban won’t increase that mana. These guys see themselves as outlaws, and the patches signify that.

          Secondly the ban is supposed to stop the gangs being so intimidating, which again, means that it is about the patch. I think that we should be banning and enforcing the bans against behaviours that are offensive, rather than trying to identify individuals or groups and coming up with bans to target them as people, seperate from their actions.

          If the target of the law is the criminality the gangs stand for, arrest them for their criminality.

  5. rave 5

    Prohibit the banksters, they create the conditions for so-called gangs. Not surprising that the white settler mentality still rules in the little towns built on the traditions of the gung-ho militias of the land wars.
    Good on the school kids of Otaki for ‘outing’ the racist Laws.

  6. Relic 6

    Many politicians have indulged in banning type intitiatives. I recall Norm Kirk’s ‘take the bikes off the bikies’ rhetoric, decades before Collins “crush and crate ’em’. The insignia bylaw however is not an abstract attack on freedom of expression, it is an actual one.

    The “Filthy Few’, BP, Mongrels and all their unpleasant bretheren are annoying reminders of an unpleasant society. Petty authoritarianism can slip by when aimed at such unpopular targets, but who will be next is a legitimate question. The mincing Mr Laws has probably done his dash for now, but which small town shithead will be next to try and ban something from main street?

    Civil liberties is the issue. For instance, I always opposed tasers for police use. Not just because they are unsafe, but also because the cops were unlikely to use them merely as a defensive device. And so it has proven, they are regularly deployed in a coercive manner. Cardiac arrest by taser coming to a demo near you.

    • The Voice of Reason 6.1

      First they came for the Filthy Few, then they came for …

      The major difficulty is that it is an entirely symbolic gesture and narrowly focussed on the central city in the same way liquor bans are. Gang members do not wear patches when out robbing nor when they are out doing the groceries. I have not seen a patched gang member in the Ave (the main street) since the occupation of Moutua gardens over a decade ago. It’s a complete non-issue.

      Wanganui does not have a gang problem that is out of proprtion to the rest of NZ. In fact, due to some terrific work by the local cops after the toddler shooting, there are a dozen less of these fools on the streets and the rest have kept a low profile since that time. I only wish the parents of that kid were also locked up. They had a choice about the environment she was brought up in and chose the gang lifestyle anyway. Her death, her blood, is on their hands, too.

      I grew up there, still spend a lot of time there for work, sporting and family reasons and I am not naive about the damage gangs do. But the damage done by the mayor’s campaign of fear and loathing has arguably cost the city more. If he wanted to really have a go, the ban would apply to Castlecliff, Aramoho and Wanganui East, where these twats live and commit most of their crimes. Of course, these are mostly working class areas and pretty hard for the mayor to see from his house on St Johns Hill.

      The effect of this fashion legislation is a just a NIMBY for the bourgeois. Keep the thugs out of town and back on the other side of the tracks where they belong. Laws dosn’t give a flying one about the real crimes that gangs commit, as long as they keep it to the poorer parts of town.

    • Rex Widerstrom 6.2

      Cardiac arrest by taser coming to a demo near you.

      And with “bipartisan political support” too, at least in Australia.

      Because of course the only alternative when someone won’t do what you command is to taser them… 28 times if necessary, as is mentioned in that report. Funny how “contain and control” is a well-accepted strategy for everything from deadly virus outbreaks to military operations but it’s beyond the Police when in the midst of a confrontation.

      They’ve done a brilliant PR job on the stupid pollies, though. The justifications put forth by both sides of politics amounts to “Well, if they didn’t risk killing you by torturing you with electricity, they’d have to certainly kill you with their guns”. Brilliant thinking from the bozos supposedly representing us (Note to politicians: that’s the people the tasers are aimed at… you know, the ones who elected you?).

  7. Alain Bonard 7

    Two points, comrade.

    (1) Our judicial system is quite capable of prosecuting groups or associations engaged in criminal activities. Prohibiting insignia showing group affiliation is discriminatory and a tragic waste of time and resources in difficult times.

    (2) It is spelt Whanganui. “Whanga” means harbour, “Nui” means
    large .. throughout Polynesia. We live in Polynesia. We do not live off the coast of Europe or North America. We should at least respect the indigenous language.

    Alain.

  8. grumpy 8

    At first I thought it was typical Laws showmanship but I saw the Sainsbury interview with the kids and their teacher last night and I have almost changed my mind.

    The children and their teacher used the word “ängry” many times to describe their feelings about the “h” and that is Laws’ point.

    When school children are “angry”, with a sense of superiority, entitlement and are highly politicised, then Laws’ reaction can be understood.

    Still think he’s a wanker though – but he does have a point.

    • Ari 8.1

      They aren’t politicised. They’re politically engaged.

      Young people can be and often are independent political agents, and Michael Laws is once again shooting from his hip.

      • Tigger 8.1.1

        If these children had written Laws a letter praising his position he would have had them all come to the council chamber on his dime and shout them all ice cream. And he would have made speeches about how wonderful it is that children are political and thinking right.

        Instead he’s just being a bully – doing the typical ‘if you don’t agree with them then I’m gonna beat you down’ and call you PC’ reaction – a fundamental right-wing tool.

        Come to think of it ‘right-wing’ tool describes Laws perfectly…

    • Pascal's bookie 8.2

      What point? Aren’t people allowed to be angry? Maybe they’ve got something to be angry about. I think if you are angry, writing a letter explaining why you are angry is a very sensible response. Doesn’t hurt anyone. Dialogue is a good thing for anger, I think.

      Laws seems angry an awful lot of the time. Maybe that’s ok though cause he’s a grown up, but he never really explains his anger. He’s just all over the place like an angry person’s shit.

      Take his repsonse to these kids. He doesn’t explain why he thinks they are wrong, just says they are and then changes the subject to ‘why he thinks Maori should stfu’ like some kiwiblogging halfknuckle.

      The simple fact is though, that these are school kids, doing some school work. Laws should have recognised that. I would assume they were learning about writing, arguing and democracy. The subject of the letter, let alone the ‘anger’ is almost incidental.

      What has Laws helped them to learn?

      • fraser 8.2.1

        “Aren’t people allowed to be angry?”

        – also – according to the teacher on nat rad yesterday the maori word for “angry” is one of those ones that has multiple meanings.

        So it could all be a lost in translation issue to say that the kids were angry in the europeran use of the word

  9. Ianmac 9

    Pascal: “I would assume they were learning about writing, arguing and democracy. The subject of the letter, let alone the ‘anger’ is almost incidental.”
    Exactly. Exercising democratic rights are essential for our democracy to continue. The lesson for kids here is that the printed word is powerful. And that even kids have the right to speak and should do so in the future to counter apathy. And that the response to a letter might be negative but at least not just a kind pat on the head.
    The gang patches might be a symbol but shouldn’t people be held to account for actual crimes? The patched member who was arrested was because he was speeding. Fair enough. But the dress code? Don’t think so.

    • gargoyle 9.1

      The other lesson for the children is that politicians, be it local or government based, are prats.

  10. Brett 10

    Look the whole event was staged.
    In reality the only thing those kids would get angry about is if they didn’t get KFC at least once a week.

  11. Macro 11

    It’s that canary-yellow Jacketed Mob that I find offensive! They have a patch on the front spelling ACT. Anti-Christ Troublemakers or something. Mean b*****ds the lot of them!
    Thank you Mr Lhaws for the wonderful work you have been doing on behalf of all the bigots in this country, I hope you ban Rodney and his Gang (who steal from the poor to give to the rich) when he comes to town too.

  12. Galeandra 12

    Well done Brett, yet another racist slur.
    They wrote letters about what they cared about. Listen up.

  13. Akldnut 13

    There are many words with many translations Search angry here, I like “tÅ«pehupehu” (stative) be angry, annoyed, antagonized, enraged, furious, incensed, indignant, infuriated, irate, outraged, riled.

    Strange that they picked a powerful word like “Angry” when it could also mean something like any of the rest

  14. Tom Semmens 14

    @Redlogix – “…I’m struck by the similarity here between this ‘banning of gang patches’ and the ‘S-59 Repeal’ issue. Both are largely symbolic measures…”

    I agree there is a similarity – both are symbolic but more importantly BOTH ARE ABOUT PROTECTING THE MOST VULNERABLE FROM VIOLENCE IN OUR SOCIETY. I voted “yes” in the referendum. To be consistant, one should also support any measure designed to dissipate the powers of any vector for violence.

  15. Swampy 15

    It was very telling listening to the Principals Federation rep on the radio yesterday morning talking about the recent school invasions.

    He said basically “Schools have now got higher standards than society whereas they used to be at the same level. Society has lowered its standards” and that is why there are more problems with physical intimidation and threats at schools.

    Cause of course the problem is that your precious Labour Party and other parties of the left support that these standards should be lowered by passing laws to do away with discipline and values and individual responsibility and public order and a proper justice system. That’s why mayors are now having to deal with all these social problems like drunkenness and gang wars and boy racers. Parliament has said “we are not interested any more, we don’t care.”

    So a bit less bleating about “freedom of expression” and blah blah blah would do, as I have said before, how many people really think you should be allowed to burn the New Zealand flag at an RSA parade, not many. LOL

    • Marty G 15.1

      you’re blaming gangs fighting in schools on the smacking ban?

      I mean, I know you’re a loon but there’s crazy and then there’s crazy

  16. Swampy 16

    Notice I did not mention S59.

    However the development of lawlessness in society is directly related to weakening discipline (both in schools and in society) and also the the justice system.

    Basically the public (unlike Parliament) still want the issue of crime to be addressed properly by whatever it takes, the mayors have to deal with these problems in their cities where Parliament can sit in their ivory towers and say it is not their concern, the problem being the mayors have very limited remedies.

    Also the fact that police have increased powers to smash gangs yet they have not done so is a serious question.

    This particular piece of law has limited impact in my view but it and measures like the boy racer laws are responses to the frustration that people feel about the increased violence in our society and Parliament’s unwillingness to substantively address it. The result of Parliament doing away with corporal punishment in schools is that the disruptive children have not gone away and now they are expelled instead.

    All of the liberal handwringing and passing liberal laws and all that nonsense has not done anything to deal with the social problems that lead to bad behaviour in schools. Just like it has not stopped gangs either.

    • lprent 16.1

      I’d say that the development of lawlessness has a lot more to do with long periods of unemployment for a lot of people in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It caused a *lot* of damage on families and their kids growing up in hopeless poverty. That seems to show up on almost every area of social work from kids to womans refuges.

      But you wouldn’t know that. Because it is pretty obvious that you are just talking theory. If you’d lifted your fat arse out into the community and done any work with the kids, you would actually have an opinion that isn’t based on pure bullshit.

      How about doing something somewhere rather than being a parasite

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