Gangs have been part of the NZ social and cultural landscape for at least as long as I have been alive. However, increasing concern over gangs is palpable these days. Recent reporting suggests that in "The three years up until December last year we'd had a 50 percent increase in gang member numbers, to more than 7,000." This is according to Jared Savage, an investigative reporter with the NZ Herald. Savage has written extensively on gang violence and the illicit drug industry in New Zealand. He has written a very successful book entitled Gangland which I have not yet read.
So let me have a go at analyzing the situation from my perspective as someone with a science background. First let’s start with a definition of the word ‘gang’.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary (my preferred option) a ‘gang’ can be any of the following:
1) a group of persons working to unlawful or antisocial ends.
2) a group of persons working together.
3) a group of persons having informal and usually close social relations.
What we would typically consider as gangs would fall under the first definition because of the ‘unlawful or antisocial ends’ bit. According to a Stuff article by Marty Sharp dated 25-Jan-20, “the country's two biggest gangs consist almost exclusively of Māori men. Typically, but not always, they're disadvantaged, uneducated, disengaged, anti-social and lead similar ways of life. They are often of the same hapū or even whānau”.
If we take the broader of the two definitions many of us ‘normal’ folk are also part of some sort of gang. For instance, the definition might include anyone who is part of a club, association, industry group, a territorial authority, industry or other lobby group, political party or even the RBNZ. Hell, even the NZ Medical Association is a sort of gang that is part of the so-called medical-industrial complex that seeks to control medical drug development and its use and make money from it.
Gangs are groups of people that associate together because they have some sort of common interest, kinship or identity.
For the entire time I have lived in NZ, I never had a problem with any gang including, Black Power, Mongrel Mob, Head Hunters or whatever. For 35 years, my father and his brothers ran a restaurant in The Strand Whakatāne and many of their customers were gang members. Never a problem in 35 years.
Today, gang membership is on the increase. But it is not the only thing on the increase in our country. Also on the increase are things like homelessness, poverty, wealth disparity, violence and family violence, youth suicide and drug use. Faced with this panorama, is it any wonder that some folk take comfort in forming groups and finding their own way in this turbulent world?
In many ways I can well understand how gang members becoming disenchanted with society and disenfranchized and how they might decide to live their lives in a non-conventional manner. Getting together with like-minded people for collaboration, comfort, friendship and succor is not being antisocial, it’s just human.
Given the woes that are besetting society these days with astronomical house prices making the situation worse than ever, is it any wondering that many find gang life alluring? And if we ask ourselves how the situation got like this, I could easily point to another few gangs that are not in the strictest sense criminal.
I am talking about the neoliberal economic crowd in government, academia and economic and policy circles that have helped create the very conditions that are making gang membership a desirable lifestyle choice in Aotearoa.
During the Great Financial Crisis of 2008, the Wall Street gang comprising hedge fund managers, wealthy banking elites, financiers, financial regulators and credit rating agencies caused immeasurable global grief and poverty. And yet no one went to jail.
The gang at the RBNZ for instance regulates the money system and blithely ignores its social responsibility. It is complicit in inflating house prices, while government, who creates money from thin air, not only makes the housing Ponzi scheme legal, it has encouraged it.
I have already called out many times how irresponsible the RBNZ has been in ignoring the bit in its legislation that says “It shall be an objective of the Bank to exhibit a sense of social responsibility in exercising its powers under this Act”. And the gang in major media are complicit in not pointing this out.
The gang of super wealthy helped tilt the playing field to their advantage and are causing untold harm to our society by causing stress, disenchantment, trauma and so forth to hundreds of thousands of our citizens. Government gives a boost to house price inflation by allowing foreigners to buy land and houses in Aotearoa and then fiddles around at the edges to make it look like they are trying their best to cure the problem they created while at the same time not grabbing the bull by the horns and taking control of the housing market. They don’t want to challenge the current paradigm and conventional wisdom.
The medical-industrial complex I referred to above is a gang that has turned people’s health into a money-making business by using their power to lobby for the privatization of health services. The gang in the insurance industry gives you an umbrella when it is fine and takes it away when it rains.
Of course, none of the above actors go around shooting, bludgeoning or knifing people directly. But the conditions imposed on society by many of the abovementioned gangs helps to ruin lives and coax people into taking their own lives.
What I would never condone from gangs of course is physical violence, especially to members of the general public. Such actions should be severely punished. We live in a society of rules, laws and norms and I am glad for it.
Yesterday, I heard someone on RNZ suggest that we should “give our gang whanau housing resources” so they could sort themselves out because nothing else had worked. Maybe this is worth thinking about.
Let’s fix all the gangs in our society. Or even better let’s fix society and the gangs might fix themselves.