Saturday 10 June 2023

Unequal To The Task?

A Dark Day: More than 40 years of affirming New Zealanders’ Right to Protest had left the NZ Police without the training or the equipment to “move on” hundreds of determined protesters (many of whom were working-class battlers and not at all averse to mixing-it-up with the cops). It took weeks to assemble the person-power necessary to clear the anti-vaccination mandates protesters’ encampment from Parliament Grounds. 

THOSE WHO DISMISS mass political protest as historically ephemeral, leaving nothing of significance behind it, are wrong. The Springbok Tour protests of 1981 made a huge impression on the NZ Police. So much so that, in the 40 years that have elapsed since the Tour, the policing of political protest in New Zealand has undergone a profound change. Just how vulnerable that change has left the New Zealand people was made frighteningly clear during the occupation and eventual clearing of Parliament Grounds in 2022. If the NZ Police are not now conducting a root-and-branch reform of their political protest policing methods, then they are failing in their duty as protectors of the state and its citizens.

In the weeks and months that followed the Springbok Tour, the Police found themselves repeatedly humiliated in the New Zealand courts. Thousands of New Zealanders had been arrested during the Tour but only a tiny minority of them were convicted – and even fewer were jailed. In case after case it became clear that, right from the start, the Judiciary had been ill-disposed towards the Tour, would rather it had not taken place, and were not prepared to saddle those who had protested against it with a criminal record. Consequently, only those guilty of the most egregious acts of protest (especially those involving aircraft) were subjected to the full rigor of the law.

The Judiciary’s unwillingness to punish protesters conveyed a disturbing message to the Police. On some issues, the usual close co-operation between the Judiciary and the Police could not be relied upon – quite the reverse, in fact. As instanced by the famous case in which protesters pled “Not Guilty” to being unlawfully on a building, but without the intent of committing any other offence. Their lawyer argued that his clients had every intent of committing other offences – hence their “Not Guilty” plea. The Judge, clearly amused, acquitted the defendants. The look of dismay and bewilderment on the face of the Police Sergeant prosecuting the case is readily imagined!

It did not take the Police very long to realise that they were being told to go easy on the sort of people who participate in protests against morally indefensible systems like Apartheid, and/or the pernicious ideologies that spawn them. Regardless of the fact that they are sworn to uphold the law, while it remains the law, Police researchers were left in little doubt that, in the Tour’s aftermath, a great many members of the New Zealand public identified the Police as the Government’s enforcers and the Springboks’ protectors. More bluntly, the Police had made it possible for an immoral and divisive tour by a racist Rugby team to go ahead.

The research data was unequivocal: the policing of the Springbok Tour protests had resulted in a significant decline in the public’s trust and confidence in the NZ Police. Worse, the people whose trust and confidence had been dented the most were, by-and-large, members of the urban professional middle-class. This was not a social formation whose support the Police could afford to lose. Their skills, coupled with their location in the power-structure, made them indispensable mouthpieces for, and buttresses of, the state. The working-class was expected to despise the fists and boots of the Police – but not the middle-class. Henceforth, its protesting children would be treated with kid gloves.

Winning back the trust and confidence of the urban professional middle-class wasn’t the only, or even the most daunting, of the challenges facing the NZ Police after the Springbok Tour. Police commanders were acutely aware that in policing the Tour their human and material resources had been stretched to the limit. Had someone been killed in the protests, the Police’s ability to preserve law and order without resorting to deadly force would likely have been exceeded. As it was, on the day of the Third Test between the Springboks and the All Blacks serious violence broke out on the streets surrounding Eden Park. Armed naval personnel from HMNZS Philomel were very close to being called to the assistance of the Civil Power. Deadly force came within an ace of being used.

Senior Police and the nation’s political leaders would have been aware of just what a near-run thing they had lived through in 1981. Very few of them, if any, would have wanted to risk another highly organised challenge to government policy.

The more thoughtful among them would have considered the policing of the Springbok Tour alongside the Police operation mounted three years earlier at Bastion Point. Clearing away the Māori occupiers of the Point had required an enormous number of Police officers, backed by significant logistical support from the NZ Defence Force. Politicians, public servants, police commanders and senior defence personnel, seeing the effort required to clear a few hundred protesters, operating in a single city, would have shuddered at the thought of one, two, many Bastion Points. In such circumstances, the use of deadly force would be inevitable.

But, even the possibility of the state resorting to deadly force was abhorrent to most New Zealanders – as the Police would learn the hard way in 2007 during the course of Operation Eight. The possibility of an armed terrorist cell training in the Ureweras could not be ignored by the Police – and it wasn’t. The deployment of masked police officers wearing helmets, body armour, and carrying semi-automatic rifles to the tiny settlement of Ruatoki, however, shocked and angered not only the local Tuhoe iwi, but also that same urban professional middle-class whose support for the Police had been so sorely tested 26 years before. Once again, the Judiciary and its minions were less-than-impressed. Once again the Police were humiliated.

The cumulative effect of these lessons in how far the Police’s “social licence” might be stretched was on display in February-March 2022 when Parliament Grounds were occupied by hundreds of New Zealanders protesting against the Labour Government’s handling of the Covid-19 Pandemic – most particularly its coercive vaccination mandates.

Over and over again, New Zealanders heard the Police Commissioner, Andrew Coster, reiterate the citizen’s “Right to Protest”.

Confronted by protesters who refused to play by the rules, however, Coster and his commanders were at a loss. Their confusion grew when the all-important urban professional middle-class began insisting that the Police clear the grounds – by any means necessary. The same people who had objected to 81’s riot squads, and the gun-toting “ninjas” at Ruatoki, were now insisting that Coster’s officers start cracking heads.

Except that more than 40 years of affirming New Zealanders’ Right to Protest had left the NZ Police without the training or the equipment to “move on” hundreds of determined protesters (many of whom were working-class battlers and not at all averse to mixing-it-up with the cops). The Police’s first attempt to enforce the law ended in ignominious retreat, and it took weeks to assemble the person-power necessary to clear the protesters’ encampment. Even then, the operation ended in fire and fury on a scale not seen in this country for 90 years.

Horrified New Zealanders, looking at the extraordinary photograph of Police officers with their backs to a granite wall, huddled together and cowering behind their Perspex shields, as all manner of missiles are hurled at them by furious protesters, suddenly realised that their state was no longer equal to the task of protecting its citizens from serious political violence.

What was (just) possible in 1978 and 1981, had ceased to be a sure-thing by 2022. And, on all three occasions, it was political protest that provided the critical test of what New Zealanders were – and were not – prepared to tolerate from the forces of the state.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 9 June 2023.


Anonymous said...

I thought I was middle class growing up in south Auckland until I saw remuera.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The possibility of an armed terrorist cell training in the Ureweras could not be ignored by the Police – and it wasn’t."

All they had to do was ask the Iwi liaison officers what was going on, but due to a lack of trust, and quite possible institutional racism, they didn't. The result was a disastrous overreaction, to people who AFAIK hadn't broken a law – yet – and were probably unlikely to do so. – except perhaps lacking licences for their firearms, but that was pretty much common up there, and largely ignored given the overall lifestyle of living off the land.

Seems to me this is part of a tendency post 9/11 to get hysterical over terrorism.

As to the demonstrators on Parliament grounds, I don't think it was simply the middle class that wanted them out of there, although they do predominate in central Wellington – perhaps people were tired of being intimidated and abused by those who demonstrated.

Were the demonstrators working class? I don't know, but many of them were from the extreme right, white nationalists, and Christian Dominionists.
They were at least as violent as some anti apartheid protesters, in fact perhaps more so. And it didn't seem to take the police very long to bring into being the Red Squad did it?

Seems to some of the fuss about their treatment was due to conservatives being annoyed that some of their own were being treated with contumely for a change. 😇

Brendan McNeill said...

“Horrified New Zealanders… suddenly realised that their state was no longer equal to the task of protecting its citizens from serious political violence.”

This very same state was demonstrably capable of inflicting serious political violence on its citizens through the instruments of coercive vaccine mandates, exclusionary vaccine passports, and public vilification of the ‘unvaccinated’.

Least we forget.

DS said...

This very same state was demonstrably capable of inflicting serious political violence on its citizens through the instruments of coercive vaccine mandates, exclusionary vaccine passports, and public vilification of the ‘unvaccinated’.

Least we forget.

The only problem was that the state did not vilify the Pro-Virus lobby enough.

David George said...

A huge leap to describe the vaccine mandate protestors as "conservative" GS, and where did the "extreme right, white nationalists, and Christian Dominionists" idea come from? The disinformation project?

About what we've come to expect; deplorables, rivers of filth etc.. Justine Trudeau similarly vilified their trucker protesters - he threw in racists, homophobes, transphobes as well. No lie was too big to generate the hate required to justify his appalling overreaction.
Just stop it.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Least we forget."
That some people thought so little of their fellow citizens that they were happy to put their lives at risk by spreading a disease that killed somewhere north of 1.1 million Americans, and only killed so few New Zealanders because the government reacted in a timely and sensible manner.

Brendan McNeill said...


You only get one view of the NZ Government's response to the Covid-19 virus from New Zealand media.

For an independent and more rational data driven view I suggest you watch this interview with Ivor Cummins:

BE(Chem) CEng MIEI PMP. Ivor is a Biochemical Engineering who has spent over 25 years in corporate technical leadership and management positions. His career specialty has been leading large worldwide teams in complex problem-solving activity. Since 2012 Ivor has been intensively researching the root causes of modern chronic disease. A particular focus has been on cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. Since March 2020, Ivor has dedicated his analytical and biochemical expertise to deep and revealing analysis of the Covid19 pandemic situation.

David George said...

DS: "the state did not vilify the Pro-Virus lobby enough"

They're our fellow Kiwis, what the hell are you suggesting?

A great wee essay and a theory to help explain what we're going through.

"Post-pandemic, I’ve been thinking long and hard about how the fear generated by COVID-19 pushed our partisan tribal instincts to breaking point and seemed to cause huge levels of irrationality on both sides of the political spectrum. I’ve known about parasite stress for some time, since near to the beginning of the pandemic. Basically, it’s the proven observation that when a new pathogen is introduced into a society it awakens nascent authoritarianism. The research shows that it is problem which is particularly associated with larger societies."

"we haven’t really shed our superstitions at all. Sure, we’ve got rid of many of our external superstitious beliefs- we no longer believe in faeries at the bottom of the garden. But parasite stress shows that we haven’t shed our cognitive superstitions. Our primitive and atavistic brains can still seize control from our more reasoned and articulate selves- all it takes is the presence of some amorphous generalised fear which we can’t fight directly, to make us revert to the primitive needs to make ourselves feel safe by applying force and coercion to others. It doesn’t really help- but it does make us feel better.

I even have a mechanism for how parasite stress manifests to pervert the normal rational functioning of government and institutions. It’s about social incentives. As parasite stress or fear grows, the moderate voices of reason are marginalised and sidelined, the voices of hardliners elevated and celebrated, becoming the prevailing organisational narrative. As the fear grows and feeds of the panic it causes eminent scientists and experts who dissent from the group objectives increasingly find themselves treated as heretics, rather than the informed and rational sceptics they so clearly are".

John Hurley said...

Kiora Chris! (tena koto katoa! as well!)
Just before you went on The Platform I sent this text:

I'm too chicken to ring up these days but I read a piece last night suggesting conservatives should not concede conservation to the left (the Greens doing well in Europe). I'm a Burkean conservative:"

"oh, you've lost be just there."

[society is a contract between the dead; the present; the unborn"]

"Sean Nichola Willis should...."

Meh Chris!

Conservatives shouldn't concede conservation to the left.
Edmund Burke: "society is a contract between the dead; the living; the unborn".
That would throw the cat among the pidgins, because there aren't many Burkeans among our current crop of globalisations cheerleaders. Their mantra is (psst!): stay in front of the mob! "and the boat "goes faster" (we are ALL better off).
Then again, this philosophy would be what the director of He Taurikura* [Hospital?/Department of Plumbing?/ Ambulance?/Domestic Thought Monitoring*/ Fred Flintstone?] would call "deeply, deeply toxic!", because society is a contract with humanity (even though human's competition is other human and no the MARKET doesn't pull rabbits out of the hat - the human economy is a subset of the Earths ecosystem for better or worse).

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Honestly Brendan, the man is a crank. The man is even considered a crank by Quilette that fountainhead of "independent thought" that all you people love to quote. Why on earth anyone would believe him over the thousands – probably hundreds of thousands of epidemiologists that have studied diseases most of their lives, not to mention immunologists and ... God help me sometimes I despair for the human condition.

I suggest David that it "awakens latent authoritarianism" because it's considered an emergency? During which a certain amount of authoritarianism is not only necessary, but appreciated.

Brendan McNeill said...

Dear GS

If you had spent as much time watching Ivor Cummins interview as you did searching on-line for his detractors you would have observed his commitment to factual data in order to either prove or disprove the worth of various Government responses to the Corona virus.

I don't mind your attempt to discredit his character but how about attempting to refute his arguments, for example, that the lockdowns were useless in preventing the spread of the virus, and were extremely costly in human terms, just to mention one.

Or, that masks were known be ineffective by the authorities and were used primarily to keep the fear of the virus alive in the population in order to boost vaccination numbers.

Guerilla Surgeon said...


The world is full of cranks Brendan and things like Covid tend to bring them out of the woodwork. I'm not sure that calling him the crank attacks his character as such but if it does so be it.

And if lockdowns were useless – why is it that New Zealand is towards the bottom of the deaths per hundred thousand people table, whereas in the US where lockdowns were often not observed they are close to the top. I'm sure that there are scientific studies to prove this but Brandolini's law gets in the way at the moment, I have to go back to my other blogs where we are celebrating the indictment of Donald Trump and the death of Pat Robertson.
We would all have substituted Henry Kissinger for Tina Turner as well.

Brendan McNeill said...

Dear GS

I shouldn’t be surprised that you are celebrating the indictment of Donald Trump on charges that could equally have been applied to President Biden. However you clearly fail to understand that this behaviour opens the way for Republicans to weaponise the judicial system against Democratic politicians just as the Democrats are now doing to Trump. Is this what you want?

This is probably the worst act of institutional destruction the Democrats have engaged in during Biden’s presidency. It further weakens the fabric of their democracy, if that were possible.

I wonder what Pat Robertson ever did to you that you should ‘celebrate his death’. I find that attitude genuinely lamentable. What kind of inner life do you lead that this should be the fruit of it?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Incidentally Brendan, if you'd bothered to read the "character discrediting" articles closely you would have come across this.

"Cummins argued that the spring outbreak would have faded away naturally without non-pharmaceutical interventions such as lockdowns. Herd immunity, he theorised, had been largely achieved and he insisted that there would be no second wave. In the winter, he said, we would see “a natural rise in the virome [the combined total of viruses in the human body]; we’ll see influenza, we’ll see more impacts on hospitals, we’ll see SARS-CoV-2 rising again, but that will be more normal winter resurgent [sic] of influenza like prior years.” Cummins dismissed those who warned of a second wave in France and Spain, where case numbers were already growing, and described the rising caseload in the US as a “double hump” caused by the southern states experiencing their first wave. He assured viewers that the American spike was already on the wane. Within two months, France and Spain were recording more than 400 COVID deaths a day and the US was climbing its biggest “hump” yet, with every state except Hawaii experiencing uncontrolled community transmission."

John Hurley said...

“Society is indeed a contract … The state … is … a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born."
Edmund Burke

The liberal elite see society as a contract with "humanity"

but human is the competitor of human for scarce resources

With provisos but it seems to be a case made. I once read (somewhere) that states which are peaceful are states where people are living in reasonable comfort, where populations aren't exploding. I think the example was Sweden (1980's)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Honestly Brendan, sometimes I wonder. There is no relationship between Trump's charges and Biden. When Biden found out he had documents he or rather his people I guess, went to the proper authorities and cooperated fully with them. As did Mike Pence – the right thing to do. On the other hand, Trump tried to obfuscate, excuse, and hide documents.

The Republicans had already weaponised the judicial system as far back as Hillary Clinton. However all their investigations to date have turned up absolutely nothing. There's a whole thing going on with the speaker of the house at the moment, have you not come across this? I find it difficult to believe if you take any interest in foreign news.

Pat Robertson is responsible for the persecution and denigration of gay people, and although it might be difficult to pin individual cases on him, the deaths by murder or suicide of many of them. He blamed them for everything, from hurricanes to 911.

"Robertson suggested that men in San Francisco wear very sharp rings that could cut you during a handshake and spread HIV."

Not to mention his encouragement and support of dictators like this one.

"In 2013, a Guatemalan court convicted Ríos Montt of crimes against humanity and genocide, with particular reference to his leadership of the campaign to exterminate the Ixil ethnic group. "

His least disgusting act was to sell quack medicines.

Like a number of your heroes Brendan the man was a monster. My only regret is that he lived so long.

I notice you didn't mention Kissinger – he is responsible for more than 1 million deaths. He should have been prosecuted for war crimes, and when he goes I will break out a bottle of bubbly.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Just got back from a walk in the bush Brendan and I was thinking – because I'd forgotten to take my little radio so that I could listen to that Communist K. Ryan.

I was wondering why you people – members of the extreme right, in fact right over to members of the moderate right – always jump to the defence of public figures who are right-wing no matter what their moral status. I mean the left will criticise its own – sometimes a little too much IMO, but Chris has done it here and I've done it here – but you people always stick together somehow. Doesn't matter what the person has done or how evil they are, as long as they are right-wing and in your case I guess "Christian", (although I doubt Robertson is the same sect as you) you always find excuses for them.

Typical example – over on MSN a while ago when that National party candidate was found to have beaten a kid with a chair leg when he was at school. Interesting everyone on the right over MSN was saying "oh gosh he was only 16 let's give him a break" yet 24-hours before, the same people were calling for the literal execution of teenage ram raiders. Is it simply tribal? Is it just knee-jerk? Is it ignorance of the actual transgressions? I would have thought you could hardly be unaware of Trump's utter corruption, but who knows.

I suspect it must be knee-jerk, because almost to a man you condemn Biden, who if you look at his voting record is perhaps just a smidgen to the right of National. Certainly a fair bit to the right of Labour.

And I could ask what kind of inner life you all have that causes this. Because it seems utterly strange to me.

sumsuch said...

Brendan MacNeill puts truth below something else. His faith should be below truth, proved by science. Instead he is in an endless battle with scientific proof, like the Fascists in America. Brendan, like my BACs, has no credibility hence.

My BAC relatives believe any old thing the Yank Right spew out, which leads me to believe they were credulous to begin with (christianity).

John Hurley said...

On the Platform today Sean was discussing the incident where Julian Bachelors Stop Co-governance group had hired a Scout Hall and at the last moment when protestors arrived police shortly after and the Scouts reneged.

A caller called to defend the Scouts. He said (I think) "we are against intolerance". [I hope they put the conversation up] I need to hear it again.

If that is what he said it is a case study of the miss-quoted Popper quote.

Anonymous said...

I think the police did cross a line towards using lethal force at the Parliamentary protest. The use of so called "sponge rounds" (baton rounds might be a more accurate description) crossed a line, that of not using specialist firearms officers for crowd control. The ability to deliver such blunt force trauma from a distance was restricted to Armed Offender Squads. That was in spite of appeals from the front line for such an ability,to bridge a perceived gap between tasers and guns. Because it was only the AOS who had them, it was the AOS who deployed them on the streets around Parliament (to the relief of the hard pressed front line, I'm sure). How close to deciding "sponge" rounds were inadequate and live rounds were needed, only the AOS know, and I'm pretty sure they would be very reluctant to ever say.

I'm one of the many who fought the cops on the Springbok tour, but couldn't help but cheer them on at Parliament on the day.

But I was also on the union picket lines against the Employment Contracts Act in 1992.
A few regular patrol cops tried to run scabs through our line, and were repulsed. (Lots of their buddies were busy outside the National Party conference, to keep the protestors under control there, at the time. That was a help). The government, the bosses, and the cops had a decision to make. The cops could assemble overwhelming force, and batter the line to get the scabs through, at least once. But what would the wider union movement's reaction be? And the political fallout for a National government assuring the public that workers living standards were not under attack? (hollow laughter). In the event, they backed off using scabs, and we eventually returned to work, with fewer immediate cuts to pay and conditions than if we hadn't gone out.

But to re-establish unions today? Which we need to do, somehow, by re-establishing unity on the job. Part of the danger will be a much strengthened police force against a much weaker union movement than was the case in 1992. That's why, in spite of my own reaction to the Parliamentary protest clearance, I think the police remain the enemy of the labour movement, and should be considered, and treated, as such.

John Hurley said...

All they had to do was ask the Iwi liaison officers what was going on, but due to a lack of trust, and quite possible institutional racism, they didn't.
Hipkins says co-governance is nothing to be scared of.
Only someone who bends over backwards closes an eye and looks through a periscope could see it that way.
Fortunately, at Massey they can do that.