And all the crowd comes in day by day / No one stop it in anyway

What in gods name has hap­pened to my sweet god­zone in the two years I’ve been away? The dark side, the same dark side that used to be the exclu­sive domain of our artists, musi­cians, writ­ers, film­mak­ers and musi­cians, seems to have bumped itself well and tru­ly into the main­stream.

I leave the blogs for a few days and come back to extend­ed threads about cops watch­ing chick­en fuck­ing movies (about the time said cops were get­ting ready to trun­cheon a few of us up and down New Zealand it must be said), more mur­der and may­hem on the front pages of the dailies, and I scratch my head. And then there seems to be a per­verse inter­est in the jer­sey of an arraigned (but no longer con­vict­ed – but also not adjured not guilty it must be said, and I was less uncom­fort­able with that con­vic­tion than sev­er­al oth­ers, but so be it) mass killer.

This is not the nation we sell to the world. The sim­ple fact is that New Zealand is very clean and green. It’s both clean­er and green­er than any oth­er place I’ve been, vis­it­ed or lived in my years, so that part of the pitch does ring true. That aside, it’s also a dark, very vio­lent, increas­ing­ly uncom­fort­able place with more than a few issues, some of which seem to have brewed long enough to be fes­ter­ing to the sur­face. I worked long enough in the hos­pi­tal­i­ty and enter­tain­ment indus­tries to have had my fill of the rug­by, alco­hol and drug (includ­ing pot) fuelled cul­ture of accept­able social force, that seems to be the norm.

But slow­ly, in its only fun­ny way, I think New Zealand is com­ing to terms with all this. As a soci­ety, it is slow­ly matur­ing. The pop­u­la­tion seems to have reached a cos­mopoli­tan mass, Auck­land could almost be deemed a city in glob­al terms – we are almost grown up.

I won­dered how long it would be before the atten­tion shift­ed to our boys in blue, as it should. One of our nation­al myths sur­rounds our Police force. Their rep­u­ta­tion, in the massed pub­lic mind, has always been one of an incor­rupt­ible force work­ing for the pub­lic good. And large­ly, it’s true. I’ve worked with and encoun­tered many hun­dreds of police­men and police­women over the past decades, work­ing with bands, in char­i­ta­ble sit­u­a­tions, answer­ing calls, and, repeat­ed­ly, as the own­er of sev­er­al licensed estab­lish­ments.

Over­whelm­ing­ly my expe­ri­ences have been pos­i­tive, and I’ve laughed and chat­ted with many a con­sta­ble on the beat, or sergeant check­ing the street, at 2am. And I have had detec­tives as friends over the years. I went through an attempt­ed extor­tion many years ago, and the police han­dled it well, albeit at the edge of their pow­ers, but any oth­er way of deal­ing with it may well have had a less pos­i­tive out­come.

But despite all that, I’ve repeat­ed­ly encoun­tered an unchecked bru­tal­i­ty and arro­gance that has exist­ed right in the mid­dle of the police cul­ture and has, not only been unchal­lenged but at times been encour­aged.

Any of us out and about in the mid sev­en­ties and ear­ly eight­ies in Auck­land will well remem­ber the noto­ri­ous Team Polic­ing Units, cre­at­ed by the late Gideon Taite. The Eng­lish have a term for the gang inva­sion of a tube train, where a bunch of thugs will enter a train at one sta­tion, and ram­page and rob, only to leave at the next. It’s called Steam­ing, and the word is appro­pri­ate for the way the police would approach licensed venues, and steam through, incit­ing, and arrest­ing, with batons – as often as not – out. We all saw it. I attempt­ed to inter­vene at the old Kiwi Hotel about 1980, when an old Poly­ne­sian guy was being kicked and batoned for being slow to answer a ques­tion, after hav­ing been pushed off his stool by a young police­man. He also spoke lit­tle Eng­lish. I received a baton in the stom­ach for my trou­ble. At least half a dozen inno­cents were arrest­ed, in what had, pri­or to their arrival, been a hap­py and con­vivial atmos­phere.

My sis­ter, who is not the sort to make a fuss (and may even be a Nation­al par­ty vot­er, I don’t know) still tells hor­ri­fy­ing sto­ries of her years on the door of the Wind­sor Cas­tle, of repeat­ed and unnec­es­sary police bru­tal­i­ty and provo­ca­tion.

The police used to arrive at clubs in the ear­ly eight­ies, and for no real rea­son, drag half the clien­tele out on the street for body search­es and like­ly arrest. My flat­mate suf­fered a bro­ken foot from a boot when he was not clear enough in his response to a ques­tion. After he was released three hours lat­er we went to a&e and, the next day tried to file a com­plaint to no avail.

I lived with it again through the years that I owned clubs. The bru­tal­i­ty aspect had toned down some­what, at least inside the venues, but the cul­ture of arro­gance was alive and well. The polic­ing units, arriv­ing as they did, on a reg­u­lar basis were always rude, over­whelm­ing in num­bers in a peace­ful, even exu­ber­ant atmos­phere, very pushy (both ver­bal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly) and gen­er­al­ly unnec­es­sar­i­ly unpleas­ant. Not only look­ing for trou­ble but active­ly want­i­ng to engi­neer it.

I recent years I’ve not had many one-on-one deal­ings with the police, aside from an attempt­ed bur­glary (they were very good), a car theft (they didn’t care and were rude), and when they arrest­ed a client of mine on an assault charge (they lied, were rude and seemed more inter­est­ed in his celebri­ty sta­tus), but I can’t help but feel that the cul­ture of arro­gance and thug­gery which was an accept­able part of the New Zealand Police Force has yet to be prop­er­ly excised.

This all feels strange, resid­ing as I do right now, in a nation emerg­ing from decades of author­i­tar­i­an rule, with a police force that still can’t quite decide which side of the divide it sits on (and is plagued by endem­ic cor­rup­tion) but the thing is, the force here has had less than a decade to work through these issues – it has only been a civil­ian author­i­ty for some sev­en years, where­as the NZP have had a cen­tu­ry and a half of non-author­i­tar­i­an rule in an afflu­ent and demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­ety, to devel­op and grow, but are still hav­ing these prob­lems, and they seem strange­ly reluc­tant to come to terms with them.

That is no longer accept­able.

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