Friday 4 September 2009

Treading On Their Patch

The Rule of Laws: By forcing gang-members to "surrender their colours", Laws' Law delivers a timely reminder of where power truly lies in a civilised society - with the State.

GANGS. Few words carry such menace. Just writing the word instantly conjures up a host of fearful images.

The biker gangs of the 1950s and 60s, cruising down the long straight highways of California astride their bellowing metallic steeds. The mechanised barbarian Huns of some denim-clad, post-war Attila.

Or, the Maori gangs of New Zealand. Black Power and the Mongrel Mob: distinguished by their blue and red bandannas; wrap-around "shades"; and steel-capped boots. In our mind’s eye we see them, standing shoulder-to-shoulder: twenty to thirty "brothers" advancing down the main street of some small North Island town in a terrifying slow amble, iron patu in their hands.

And surely, making us afraid is the whole point of the exercise. Whether it be the full-throated roar of twenty Harley-Davidsons; or the slow amble of thirty implacable brothers-in-arms; the purpose is the same: to terrify, to overawe and to intimidate all who encounter them.

And the icon of that terror; the object in which our fear finds its symbolic expression; is the gang "patch".

In essence the gang-member’s patch is no different from the eagle-topped standards borne into battle by Rome’s legions, or the regimental colours around which the Duke of Wellington’s Redcoats formed-up in protective squares on the field of Waterloo. Nothing is more important than these symbols of the group. They must never be surrendered. Men will fight – will kill – and, if needs be, will die, in defence of such symbols.

To capture a legion’s "eagle", or a regiment’s colours, or a gang-member’s patch, is to capture the vanquished’s honour, his manhood, his very soul. Anyone who has ever seen the film of the triumphant Red Army soldiers throwing down the captured regimental standards of Hitler’s legions in front of Lenin’s Tomb, while Stalin looks down from its summit with studied contempt, knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Or, perhaps, because the gang patch is such a personal symbol of power, a better comparison might be the commander of a defeated army surrendering his sword to the victorious General of the opposing side.

To give up one’s patch is, therefore, no small thing – as the history-graduate Mayor of Wanganui, Michael Laws, knows full well. And a law which requires every gang member to remove his patch before going into Mr Laws’ town – precisely because it mandates a very public demonstration of the gang-member’s acquiescence to the demands of the wider Wanganui community – is also no small thing. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a more effective means of reminding the gangs about who, in the end, wields the power.

Perhaps Mr Laws, like me, is mindful that the only time the Nazi Party’s ability to intimidate the citizens of Weimar Germany was ever seriously curtailed was in 1932, when Chancellor Heinrich Bruning prohibited its "stormtroopers" from wearing their uniforms. Stripped of their brown shirts and swastika armbands, Hitler’s political enforcers could no longer be mistaken for anything other than the brutal street-thugs they’d always been.

By now you’ll have guessed that, unlike so many of my left-wing comrades, I’m not an opponent of Mr Laws’ Law. Quite the contrary, in fact. As far as I can determine, gangs are not so much manifestations of social need, as they are the straightforward expressions of personal greed. Young men don’t become gang-members because they’ve been badly treated, but because they’re willing to treat people bad.

Terror always has a purpose. In the case of the gangs, fear and intimidation are used to facilitate the commission of serious criminal offences. Each patched gang-member controls a platoon of eager apprentices, "prospects", who earn their own patch by "standing-over", stealing, and all-too-often killing to order. Once patched, the now fully-fledged gangster gains access to the extremely lucrative trade in illicit drugs such as "P" and Ecstasy – the Australasian value of which is said to exceed $5 billion per anum.

To put a dent in that trade – and all the human misery and waste that goes with it – I am willing to countenance the minimal curtailment of civil liberties which Mr Laws’ Law makes possible.

But Laws’ Law, alone, is not enough. With billions of dollars at stake, the gangs will not hesitate to jettison the fearsome symbols of their criminal infancy.

Treading on their patches is but one small step on a very long journey.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday 4 September 2009.


Tom Semmens said...

I know one of your themes is the need for the left to disconnect from (to use the blogsphere) Public Address and reconnect with... well, people who don't have the time to blog from a nice office job. To the extent that if the left doesn't do this it will leave the ground fertile for simple Crosby/Textor wedge politics from the right I agree with you.

I've been interested in this debate because although I loath Michael Lhaws, it is a classic demonstration of exactly the phenomena you talk alot about. I class myself as pretty left wing, but I support any action that deals to the gangs. Gangs impact on ordinary New Zealanders in nothing but a bad way. Too many urban liberals have, on this issue, studiously ignored the street terror gangs bring to law abiding citizens and communities and have limited themselves to simply attacked Lhaws.

I get the feeling many guilt ridden urban liberals would rather delude themselves gangs are noble savages brought down by the evil settlers and just need to be understood and re-gifted their nobility for them to go away. Electronically they'll stand side by side with the gangs whilst quietly moving them and their families to safe, leafy suburbs well away from the gang HQ's. For some reason, many liberals would rather do anything than admit to the reality that gangs are just criminal organisations with no redeeming features whatsoever.

Blue collar Kiwis on Struggle St. are not stupid. They note the hypocrisy of those who lecture them on smacking (and I voted "yes") then turn around and condemn Lhaws for doing something to take down violent gangsters a peg or two.

We are long past the need to simply outlaw these organisations, lock stock and barrel. German democracy survives and thrives with laws that ban Nazi organisations. We need similar laws here.

Anonymous said...

How far down the street of restriction of personal freedom are we prepared to walk. Many, many meaningless steps I'm afraid to say.

Cactus Kate said...

Agree Chris. Next up...mercenaries paid to conduct a nationwide hit on each and every member at the top table of these gangs. That would show that someone was serious about getting rid of them.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Mr Trotter, of late you have displayed many flashes of non ideological common sense. If you're not careful you'll be getting fan letters from No Minister and Whaleoil.

Seriously though, I agree entirely with you Tom Semmens on this one. For some time now I have felt that the de-criminilaisation of marijuana use combined with long sentences of genuine hard hard labour in prison for those who peddle the product and meth might be useful steps in swatting these family wrecking back street cockroaches.

Anonymous said...


I agree with you entirely. To add to your litany of effective bans on brutalist regalia, the UK's 1936 Public Order Act stripped the Mosleyites of the right to wear full Fascist regalia in public and led to a marked reduction in Fascist violence.

Anyone who thinks a similar ban on patches wouldn't reduce the allure of gangs is suffering from 'Delusions of Aotearoa 101", viz. the notion that we're totally diffrent to every other country on earth


Joe W said...

Blue collar Kiwis on Struggle St. are not stupid.

Maybe not, Mr. Semmens, but I can assure you that. just as there are stupid urban liberals, there are a fair proportion of very stupid struggle-streeters.

Anonymous said...

If you have nothing, job,food,house,money, or even shoes and life is hard for you the Mongrel Mob is the way to go. Because no one really care about you, but those that have been there.