TIME WAS when people observing the transfer of funds from politicians to gangsters knew what they were looking at – graft. The “Five Families” of the New York Mafia were justly notorious for the number of politicians, judges and cops they had “in their pockets”. One suspects, however, that even Lucky Luciano and Joe Bonanno would have raised their eyebrows at a transfer of $2.7 million from the US Government to La Cosa Nostra! Such outlandish behaviour was bound to “draw the heat”.
So what was Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson thinking of when they approved a $2.7 million grant to a chapter of the Mongrel Mob? Officially, they were hoping to enlist at least some members of the Mongrel Mob in the fight against methamphetamine abuse and addiction. Working, presumably, on the principle that “it takes a thief to catch a thief”, or, in this case, “it takes the sellers of a dangerous illegal drug to reduce the harm of a dangerous illegal drug”, the Government has clearly decided that there is more to be gained by working with the gangs than against them.
References have even been made to the strong working relationship that developed between the former National Party Prime Minister, Rob Muldoon, and Black Power gangsters back in the early 1980s. But, one might as easily describe the Anglo-Saxons’ payment of the “Danegeld” to the marauding northmen as evidence of their “strong working relationship”. Certainly, Muldoon’s intervention was instrumental in persuading Black Power to keep the peace vis-à-vis Pakeha New Zealand. Such arrangements, however, can only ever be temporary. At some point the “price” of peace becomes too high – even for Rob.
It all boils down to signals. What is a government saying about itself when it parlays with known criminals? What is it signalling about its willingness to openly confront them? More to the point, what message does it send to all the decent, law-abiding, charity-workers who struggle every day to convince their neighbours that gangs are a curse upon their community to be resisted and shunned? What do they tell them when they see millions of dollars handed over to (allegedly) “reformed” gangsters, while charities are forced to jump through endless bureaucratic hoops to secure a few thousand?
In a recent web posting, the veteran left-wing journalist Gordon Campbell wrote: “Engaging with gangs doesn’t mean you’re coddling them or condoning their criminal actions or granting them a legitimacy they otherwise lack. But because they exist, and because they are in contact with other, marginalised members of society, it is worth talking to them, at least.”
I could not disagree more strongly. Those other “marginalised members of society” the gangs are in contact with are their victims: the people upon whom their criminality heaps all manner of pain and sorrow. Dear God! One might just as easily observe that Neville Chamberlain “engaged” with Adolf Hitler at Munich! Not to coddle him, you understand, or condone his criminal actions, or lend his naked gangsterism toward the Czechs a legitimacy it would otherwise have lacked. No. Chamberlain “engaged” with Hitler because he wasn’t ready to fight him. What’s more, Hitler knew it.
What must Hamilton’s Mongrel Mobsters have been thinking as they pocketed the $200 “koha” from Paul Hunt, New Zealand’s Chief Human Rights Commissioner? Were they nodding sagely and silently praising the soft-spoken bureaucrat for his willingness to engage so fulsomely with their organisation? (Unlike the Green co-leader, Marama Davidson, who declined to offer this customary gratuity?) Or, did their lips curl in scorn at Hunt’s pusillanimous naiveté? Were they thinking to themselves: what a funny old world it is when, one week, the cops bust you for distributing “P”, and the next you’re being patronised – and paid! – by the Chief Human Rights Commissioner himself!
Either way, the message conveyed was the same: weakness and confusion.
In addition to the Anglo-Saxons’ silver and gold, the Danes would have carried away a very similar message. Likewise, Lucky Luciano and Joe Bonanno, in their gangster paradise, would have lamented the unbelievable stupidity and cowardice of the authorities. “Saps!”
Jacinda Ardern must understand that organised crime is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop – until her Government decides to stop it.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 16 July 2021.