THE IMAGES were the stuff of nightmare. Cars being driven at speed – not on the streets, but inside a shopping mall. Jarring enough for most people, but what followed the cars was even more disturbing. Hooded figures moving swiftly and purposefully across the mall’s polished floor: a loose formation of young offenders heading for the shops. Unstoppable, for the very simple reason that no one was present to stem the larcenous tide.
Well-meaning experts – like Professor Ian Lambie – will implore New Zealanders to refrain from making their usual rush to judgement. They will be told that youth crime statistics are actually registering a drop in offending. That the individuals captured on the mall’s CCTV represent only a tiny minority – the product of the very worst instances of familial breakdown and dysfunction. Lambie, himself, in discussion with Q+A’s Jack Tame, suggests that the offenders are drawn from just 200 families nationwide, and all are likely well known to the authorities.
It will do no good.
The CCTV recording of the ram-raid against Auckland’s Ormiston Mall is so disturbing, so inspiring of dread and rage, that no amount of rational commentary will make the slightest difference. Brief and ill-defined though it may be, the recording confirms in the most powerful fashion the stories so many New Zealanders have been telling themselves. It speaks of societal breakdown: of a generation utterly unfazed by laws and rules and social expectations. More dangerously, it prompts questions that are all-too-likely to generate highly prejudicial answers.
The first and most obvious of these is: “What are these kids doing out late at night in the company of unabashed criminals?” Immediately followed by: “Where are their parents?” And then by: “Where are the Police?” A moment-or-two’s cogitation prompts the question: “Why aren’t these kids worried about the consequences of their actions?”
All of these questions are fair and reasonable. It is, however, unlikely that a great many of the public’s answers will be either reasonable or fair.
The idea that the youngsters involved in the ram-raid have parents waiting for them at home is almost certainly erroneous. Most of the individuals caught by the CCTV cameras are likely to have endured seriously dysfunctional relationships with one or both of their birth parents from a very early age. Almost certainly, neglect and abuse will have been constant features of their brief lives. Institutional care, most of it of indifferent quality, and some truly appalling, is their lot. For these kids, “home” is not a word with positive and/or comforting connotations. Nobody is waiting for them.
Such education as these children receive is almost entirely informal. The lessons delivered by their teachers: older kids, mostly, from more-or-less identical backgrounds, will be ruthlessly practical. How to drive a stolen motor vehicle. Which cars have the easiest security systems to circumvent. The most effective way to force a door and/or shatter a plate-glass window. The legal system’s helplessness when confronted with offenders under the age of 14. The importance of offering nothing to the Police. The deadly consequences of narking on your mates.
Certainly, the vast majority of these young offenders will not have seen the inside of a classroom for months, maybe years. The statistics compiled by Charter Schools advocate and private education provider, Alwyn Poole, paint a grim picture of widespread truancy in New Zealand’s poorest educational catchments – approaching 50 percent in some schools. These truants are seldom tracked down and returned to the classroom. A toxic mixture of scandalously under-funded enforcement, coupled with the learned helplessness of under-resourced institutions means that large numbers of children are entering adulthood lacking the wherewithal to pursue anything other than a criminal career.
These are the people referred to by worried politicians as “NEETs” (Not Engaged in Employment or Training). The best of them will be recruited by the gangs, the rest of them will end up as the gangsters’ clientele. To feed their drug habits, these latter unfortunates will be forced to put their criminal educations to more and more frequent use. If their drug of choice is methamphetamine, then the likelihood of extreme criminal violence is high.
Small wonder, then, that in the light of a spate of ram-raids by young offenders, the Education Minister, Chris Hipkins, has announced, pre-Budget, his intention to take steps to improve school attendance rates:
“A regional response fund of $40 million over four years is being established to meet local education needs, with a strong initial focus on ensuring students are going to school and are engaged in their learning.”
Not that “Middle New Zealand” is likely to notice the difference $10 million per year will make to the truancy statistics, nor to evince a conspicuous willingness to investigate the social pathology and institutional inadequacies that gave rise to the shocking CCTV images of the Ormiston Mall Ram-Raid.
Not for nothing are social commentators referencing “the exhausted middle” and its growing disinclination to engage with a political system that itself appears to have become dysfunctional. The stories that New Zealand, as a nation, used to tell itself: that in spite of their differences Māori and Pakeha had contrived to become “one people”; that “fairness” was what counted most in the formulation of public policy; and that the state commanded sufficient loyalty and respect to arbitrate political and cultural conflicts; are attracting fewer and fewer adherents.
Almost certainly, a majority of the middle-class New Zealanders who watched the CCTV record of the ram-raid on Ormiston Mall understood that what they were witnessing was yet more dramatic and disturbing evidence of the crisis that has been gripping working-class Māori and Pasifika for decades. At the same time, however, those middle-class Pakeha would have told themselves that any attempt to identify and comment upon the ethnic components of the ram-raids, and the future they portended, would likely be met with a storm of criticism and angry charges of racism.
The upshot is the worst of both worlds. The images will sink deep into the electorate’s political consciousness, waiting there for a suitably mendacious politician to lift them to the surface. At the same time, the discussion and debate that such a jarring event would once have ignited will not take place. Consequently, the anxiety and anger will remain, unrelieved by the political and cultural engagement that offers the only effective remedy.
The great virtue of democracy is that when citizens are shocked and frightened by events which suggest a breakdown of law and order, they are always able to answer “we, the people” can fix it. Through free, frank, and often hurtful debate, the shape of a solution emerges and consensus develops over the next steps to be taken.
Facing the truth is never easy, but it is always better than the alternative. Because, no matter how diligently we weight it down; no matter how earnestly we hope it will remain sunk, Truth’s body always resurfaces. The challenge then is not simply to deal with it, but to understand how we could ever have considered it wiser to keep the truth hidden.
This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website of Monday, 2 May 2022.
An excellent essay.
In a way, the problems you allude to, dovetail neatly into the rising anger over co-governance,He Puapua....etc .The wilful ignoring/failure by Ardern and Labour to even acknowledge the plaintive cries of the bulk of the thinking populace against the looming 'ethnostate' increases anger, when it is as plain as the nose on ones face, the perps in this case are the SAME people in essence, that Ardern wants to cede 50% control too !
Simply "it ain't gonna fly".
Lets avoid war, and bin it now please !
Thoughtful comments, well said. At the the risk of being dismissed as being frightened middle, the child ram raiders just add to the issues with unpoliced crime violence and gunplay that have some incrtesingly apparent in Auckland, wellington and Hawk's Bay. Groups of errant motorcyclists causing havoc, and the growing concerns about police orders to avoid confrontation with gangs. This may be dismissed as middle class handwringing, but it is making people feel unsafe, Labour risks being pilloried for saying crime is noit out of control
"At the same time, however, those middle-class Pakeha would have told themselves that any attempt to identify and comment upon the ethnic components of the ram-raids, and the future they portended, would likely be met with a storm of criticism and angry charges of racism."
Come on Chris. A quick glance at almost any news site or right wing blog site will show you that these middle-class Pakeha are commenting and damn the consequences. Or rather they know that there are few if any consequences. And other middle-class Pakeha are upvoting and agreeing with them. Because you know, it's terrible that these 'mairies' (spelling is not their forte) are ungratefully taking stuff when they get so much stuff free from the government.
Yes, deeply shocking. And we are in free fall under this appalling, incompetent, effete and deeply racist "government ". This is just the beginning.
What else could one expect from decades of running schools with a "no consequences" system of management.
In most other countries police and often security staff are armed and these miscreants wouldnt run the risk of being shot.
There were similar problems in the mid 1800s with children on the streets but come the late 1800s and thru to the 1970s the problem was removed by means of wars - the Boer war, the Russian/ english war in the crimea, WW1, WW2, Korean then Viet Nam - these managed to feed these lost youths into whats called 'the meat grinder'. Maybe whats happening in the Crimea might come to our rescue. If NATO keep feeding top grade weapons in there as though Ukraine was a Nato member then Mr Putin might get really pissed off.
One thing that has occured to me is that the young crims are not 'sitting on their bums and doing nothing'. So that cliche is wiped and its at the heart of all the putdowns.
And the other is that they need to beloing somewhere and if their streak of individuality can be found and if they are enabled to turn a skill they enjoy into something and be able to go away from their cronies to do it half of the current crop of neer do wells may actually be turned aside and have a story to tell at middle age.
But people in Labour like Trevor Mallard do not bring their old age experience and the past torch of labour to bear, and the young people are full of dreams, theories and wokeness. No-one has the right amount of mental strength and rudimentary philosophy on the worth of humanity to the fore for action.
I do wish people would not make assumptions about these ratbag kids.
Oh poor things, bad upbringing. blather blather
I am sure EVERY reader of this column will know somebody who had a bad upbringing and didnt ramraid/steal whatever and turned out a good citizen of my country
If middle NZers are shocked by and afraid of the pathologies that spew out the arse end of the economic system they support and religiously vote for - what does that make them? People scared of their own ghosts?
I think most exhausted middle class voters have given up hope. We don’t trust any government to reign in the welfare state, promote individual responsibility or do anything constructive. Just keep paying the feral underclass their weekly ‘wage’ benefits while we get on with our lives and do the best for our families. We’ve already written off the politicians and their advisers as utterly incompetent.
As for some of the comments...
Oh Please...these events were foreshadowed when in 2015-2017, several important social service delivery contracts were not renewed - in particular, key youth worker projects in Otara, Mangere and Manurewa.
The then government was warned...they didnt listen
Reports and articles below.
Is there any surprise when median income in Otara alone is $24K pa?
Benefits too high? Speaking from recent personal experience having recovered from illness and being on Jobseeker Support with a medical exemption for a time...and being an Otara resident born and bred...not even close.
Some may need to venture out of ones ivory tower once in a while...
PS a geography lesson for those who may not be aware, Ormiston is next door to Otara.
Anonymous You are despicable at 20.58. You might do better some other time but I doubt it. It is your sort grabbing and holding to your chest all you can get and looking down on all the rest that has formulated this present debacle. There are people who have tried to do things of value but while learning how to accumulate advantage have given little thought to standards and the worth of what is being done for that money.
Real progress is going after better lives and bringing others alongside and not just going after the easy money oneself that helps a nation 'get on'. We have not done that consistently and that has led to less chances and poor role models so we look to wealthy smiling assassins as our leaders or anyone with money really, and a big house, even if they become vile old people they are still worthier than the poor. You are smug, self-centred, exploitative; you make me sick.
I guess it gives these kids a sense of purpose, achievement, reputation and camaraderie that normal society fails to. No-one mentions anomie, but I’m sure this response is a cure. I suspect Maori nationalism is designed for the same purpose, but I’m predicting a sharp increase in assertiveness – arrogant, intimidating and aggressive. The price NZ will pay for this misbegotten idea of co-governance, an impossible blend of primitive and modern culture, will be horrendous. But for Marxists it’s simply another social condition successfully overthrown.
There is passing politics and the real thing.
The real thing is the secession of those who don't benefit from the freemarket state.
Don't you think Chris if every wallet was lasered we'd get back to a more serious view of reality?
This country must ask itself whether it now deserves Tony Blair's terrible political epitaph, delivered by George Osborne, "You were the future once."
Take the taxpayers out of smoke
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