Don’t Lose Sight of the Cannabis Vote

Let’s not turn a blind eye to the cannabis referendum, even though it may not feel significant amid Covid-19.

I for one am delighted to see the Government has released the final version of the bill we will all vote on in the referendum on September 19 – and am also delighted to see its aims are clearly stated and focused on a health-based harm reduction approach to cannabis. 

That the team behind the cannabis referendum, as well as the ministers involved, have been working away at this, despite the advent of Covid-19, demonstrates the importance of this issue for New Zealand. Although we are preoccupied with the coronavirus on a number of levels, other important issues, such as this, should also be given some of our attention.  

Why, I hear you ask? Why do we need to give this our attention? In the middle of a pandemic? Well, even in the middle of a pandemic, critical issues that affect us don’t go away. 

Many of us have already been affected by the prohibition of cannabis. 

During my research, I talked to New Zealanders living with the stigma of drug-related convictions. Consider the person who said, “I was broken for quite a long time [after being convicted of cannabis possession], I was always living with that in the background.” Or the person who noted that after being convicted it was “just shame, you just carry this terrible shame”. Or the person who said of the stigma of cannabis-related convictions, “I just felt depressed and anxious and stressed out, I didn’t need that sort of negative attention.” Or another person about trying to move on after getting a cannabis conviction: “Straight away they ask you if you have a police record and it’s not hard for them to check up on you.”

Continue reading Don’t Lose Sight of the Cannabis Vote

Covid Criminalisation

Angus Lindsay

Although there to protect us, many of the Government’s recent measures have widened the net of criminal justice. When we move into a post-Covid world, we should be critical of lingering policies that may remain.

Because of Covid-19, New Zealand police have been granted what have been described as unprecedented powers under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act (2002), the Health Act (1956) and the Summary Offences Act (1981).

Under these Acts, everyone is to be isolated/quarantined at their current place of residence except as permitted for ‘essential’ movements. This poses a significant change by temporarily criminalising everyday actions and activities such as exercise, seeing loved ones, road use and travel (except for ‘essential’ purposes), and buying consumer items like gaming consoles or sporting equipment even if contactless delivery is assured (yet alcohol and some designer clothes shops have skirted these regulations).

To ‘protect’ the public, police are able to do “anything reasonably necessary, including the use of force, to compel, enforce, or ensure compliance”. This includes directing any person to stop an activity seen to possibly contribute to the emergency.

Continue reading Covid Criminalisation

Freedom from Lockdown

Sarah Monod de Froideville

Just another two business days, she said. Well, actually, the weekend and the day following it too (for Anzac Day). As Jacinda Ardern announced we’d remain at level 4 until the morning of Tuesday 28 April, I swear I could hear the collective groan.

Everyone wants to get out of lockdown. The boredom, cooped-upness and trauma in discovering just how design challenged one’s colleagues truly are (I have a friend who describes Zoom meetings as a form of intimate assault).

Well, I don’t want it to end. I have found a freedom in lockdown, but in sharing it I have to make a confession. I, like the Health Minister, nation’s surfies and thousands of others, am a lockdown offender.

I didn’t plan on it, but have been doing my daily walks a little bit outside my local neighbourhood, and mostly at night. I’ve been walking and walking for long periods in the dark because, for once in my life, I feel like it’s safe to do so.

It is remarkable to be in the outdoors at night and just be; without having to walk briskly, keys in hand and cellphone at the ready, having to cognitively identify every sound.

When we reach level 2, it is not likely I—or any other woman—will ever have the same opportunity again. Every woman understands the effort we put into being hypervigilant in a world that doesn’t promise us our security.

Continue reading Freedom from Lockdown

Fear, Crime and Justice in a Time of Pandemic

We talk a lot about fear in criminology. More precisely, we reflect on how our political, legal, economic and socio-cultural systems create conditions in which we fear certain people or certain events more than others. Fears are constructed. They determine what we criminalise or who we decide to surveil, police, judge or incarcerate. Fears can provide a cover for crime and justice responses that are racist, discriminatory and undermining of protections. 

States and businesses have long been adept in mobilising fears. A catalogue of state and corporate harms – slavery, colonial violence, abuse in ‘care’, mass incarceration, repressive border controls, among other activities – has been readily operationalised, commodified and legitimised through fears of the ‘other’: the ‘aliens’, the ‘dangerous’ and the ‘monsters’. In settler-colonial New Zealand, this othering has functioned to control and violate Māori in diverse ways.

We have also repeatedly seen that when fears run high (such as following an unusual violent crime) we rush through ‘urgency’ legislation and amp up punitive powers. Policing and security are regularly over-emphasised as responses to wider social problems. 

Fear-based responses largely revolve around distancing.

Continue reading Fear, Crime and Justice in a Time of Pandemic

The Problem of Rape

Movie Mogul Harvey Weinstein has been convicted of rape. But the problem is much bigger and more insidious than a few bad men.

In May 2017, New York Times journalist Jodi Kantor had a conversation with Hollywood actress Rose McGowan that began the downfall of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was on Monday convicted of sexual assault by a New York jury and faces further charges in Los Angeles.

Following Kantor’s article, the producer of multiple successful films from Kill Bill to The English Patient was under watch for sexual predation against women ranging over three decades.

What McGowan imparted was clearly bigger than her own experience of sexual assault. All the studios paid out money to silence women, she said, and no actress wanting a future dare speak out. In her case, Weinstein’s team quickly moved in with a US$100,000 payout conditional on her silence, money she said she donated to a rape crisis centre.

As more of Weinstein’s history became known, many wondered why women had not spoken out. Even more puzzling, why hadn’t all those around the producer who knew of his exploits exposed him?

Continue reading The Problem of Rape

Myths and Misinformation about Cannabis Legislation (or why you should vote yes in the referendum)

I was recently invited to Whanganui by the organisers of the Science Forum there – they wanted a panel of experts with knowledge about drug research to discuss the cannabis referendum.

There was an audience of just over 200 people, indicating how keen people are to get information about the referendum. This was made abundantly clear in chatting to people afterwards – all they want is clear information about the referendum, what it might mean, how will it be done and what the effects might be.

They had been confused by claims in the media that cannabis causes psychosis and that legalisation will be a ‘free for all’ with increased use by young people. Many were surprised to hear what us speakers had to say: that legalisation is not the horror story they had been led to believe.

Continue reading Myths and Misinformation about Cannabis Legislation (or why you should vote yes in the referendum)

Stop blaming sex workers for their murders

abstract comparison.3 by foxrosser,CC BY-ND 2.0

News that yet another young woman has allegedly been murdered by a man in New Zealand made for a sombre start to 2020.

Bella Te Pania was 34 years old. Media reports stated that she had been working on the street as a sex worker at the time of her death, and that the man who has been charged with her murder allegedly attacked her while she was out working. 

Countless women have been murdered by violent men in New Zealand in recent years – though our shamefully high rate of violence against women is a trend that goes back much further.

Te Pania, along with all women who have died in this way, deserved to be safe.

Violence against women is endemic in our society and while campaigns such as #MeToo have shifted our societal discourse to some extent, the murder of a sex worker (and specifically women who work on the streets) often provokes a particularly insidious form of victim blaming.

Continue reading Stop blaming sex workers for their murders

Pornography and Panic

Samantha Keene

Contemporary pornography is immensely popular, accessible and mostly free via pornographic ‘tube’ sites such as Pornhub, Xvideos, Youporn and live webcam sites such as LiveJasmin. The colloquial rules of the internet suggest that the internet exists for pornography, and that if pornography of a particular genre does not currently exist, then it soon will. Pornhub.com is one of the biggest and most popular online pornography tube sites. In 2018 alone, it reported a record 33 billion site visits, which amounted to 207,405 videos viewed every minute. As has been the trend in previous years, Pornhub’s annual year in review data for 2019 will likely show increased numbers of site visits, increased hours of content viewed, and increased numbers of videos uploaded to the site.

The front page of Pornhub has over 10 million videos to search from, as well as offering a selection of ‘hot porn videos in New Zealand’ and the ‘most viewed porn videos in New Zealand.’ It allows viewers to search for content from what seems to be an endless menu of sexual behaviours, acts and themes. Of course, this is perhaps not news for most – we know that New Zealanders feature in the top 30 countries in the world by capita for viewing frequency on Pornhub. Whilst pornography is often thought of as a man’s activity, we also know that Kiwi women are increasingly viewing pornography, making up 40% of New Zealand’s viewing audience.

Various claims are made about pornography and its impacts. Pornography is labelled dangerous and harmful for children, especially regarding their sexual development. It is labelled aggressive, misogynistic and degrading to women. It’s situated as a causal factor in the perpetration of sexual and physical violence. It’s claimed to affect intimacy in adult relationships, to be ‘addictive’ in nature. These claims encourage us to panic about pornography, and calls are often made to regulate, or ban, access to pornography.

Continue reading Pornography and Panic

Water Harms

Creative commons, by fourteenzerozero

“It was bullshit. The whole thing was bullshit. And even to this day now it’s still bullshit.”

Those are the words of one of the Havelock North residents struck down by gastroenteritis in the 2016 campylobacter outbreak in the town as a result of contaminated drinking water.

It was sheep shit, not bull, that is thought to have been most likely responsible for the contamination, which led to four people dying, 45 being hospitalised and an estimated 5,500 – a third of the town’s population – falling ill.

But the bullshit comment reflects the ongoing sense of injustice I encountered when I interviewed more than 40 people who lived through the incident and became ill, cared for someone who became ill or bore witness to events.

The interviews – with 21 males and 20 females aged 17 to 84 – were prompted by wanting to know the stories of the people behind the numbers so frequently cited by media and in announcements related to the official inquiry into the contamination.

I heard of intense physical pain and hardship, in many cases lasting long after the outbreak itself. There was anger about how the crisis was handled, scepticism about several aspects of official accounts of it, and feelings of grievance over what is seen as a lack of accountability.

Another reason for the interviews was to develop our understanding of environmental victimisation.

Continue reading Water Harms

We need to go to war – against our cars

In this well-constructed report, Roger Brooking uses an eco-global criminological lens to explore the problem of our greenhouse gas emissions from personal vehicle use. His findings are nothing short of startling!

This report focuses on the environmental harm caused by road transport emissions in New Zealand. Using an eco-global criminology perspective, it points out that these emissions contribute to greenhouse gas emissions around the world (now over 400 parts per million) and analyses the devastating impact this is having on the climate and the environment, including in New Zealand.

According to StatsNZ (2016), the most damaging greenhouse gas emissions emitted in New Zealand are carbon dioxide (43.8%), methane (42.8%) and nitrous oxide (11.6%). Combining the global warming potential of these gases into one formulation, the Ministry for the Environment reports that in 2017, the country emitted 80.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e) – an increase of 23% on emissions in 1990. Even though our emissions are increasing, New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions make up only 0.17% of the world’s total emissions (Greenhouse Gas Inventory, April 2019).  Our tiny contribution seems to underlie the National Party’s approach to climate change which is to not take the issue too seriously and avoid “shutting down businesses here, only for them to go offshore to less environmentally friendly places” (National Party website, n.d.).

There’s another perspective on these statistics which is far more concerning. Although our total emissions are small, New Zealand emits 18 tonnes of greenhouse gases per person every year (Fyers, 2018).  Per capita, that makes New Zealanders the 21st biggest contributor to global warming. Out of 43 developed countries with international commitments on climate change (Annex I countries), this makes us the seventh biggest contributor per person (Ministry for the Environment, 2017).

Continue reading We need to go to war – against our cars

Blame, Shame and the Murder of Women

Grace Millane

Violence against women is one of New Zealand’s most significant and pressing social issues. Every day police respond to hundreds of family violence incidents, and women continue to die as a result of men’s violence. In December 2018 New Zealand recognised the severity of a specific offence – strangulation – and implemented legislative reform to address its pervasiveness. Five arrests for strangulation were reported a day in February 2019 . I mention all of this because of the Grace Millane murder trial.

On 21 December 2018 she was strangled to death while visiting New Zealand. Her body was later found in a suitcase, buried, in the Waitakere ranges in Auckland. The man accused of her murder claimed her death was the result of consensual rough sex that had “gone wrong”. After a three-week trial, a jury of five men and seven women found him guilty of murder after less than six hours of deliberation.

While a guilty verdict has been established, this does not detract from the distressing nature of this murder trial – distressing for myriad reasons: distressing because a young woman lost her life in a country where she should have been safe; because it quickly became a trial about a young woman’s sexual history and interests instead of the actions of a violent man; because while the defence said Millane was not to blame for what happened that night, the case it built suggested she was somehow blameworthy.

Continue reading Blame, Shame and the Murder of Women

‘Plural policing’ should come at a cost

‘Policing’ is increasingly falling to private security and citizen-led initiatives. Yet the wages and the training don’t match the responsibility. So what can we do? 

The popular 2003–2015 British crime show New Tricks, repeats of which appear regularly on New Zealand television, is about a trio of detectives brought out of retirement and attached to a London police squad to help investigate unsolved crime.

It’s an entertaining premise—but it’s no longer as fictional as it once appeared.

Earlier this year, Essex Police advertised for civilian volunteers, including retired officers, to work alongside detectives. This followed the Home Secretary’s 2015 proposal to give stronger powers to police volunteers to take witness statements and even detain suspects.

The reason is austerity. Since 2010, some UK police services have experienced budget cuts of up to 25%. The result has been a dramatic reduction in officer numbers: From 144,353 in 2009 to 122,859 in 2017. One MP observed ‘it’s the thinnest blue line I’ve seen in my life’.

Though widely interpreted as desperate populist posturing, Boris Johnson’s promise to recruit 20,000 new officers won’t make up for those already lost, nor the additional number required to match population growth since 2010.

It’s little wonder that many Chief Constables have identified volunteers as a solution. As of July 2018, 40,000 police volunteers were operating in England and Wales, adding an estimated £75-80 million of value.

In the United States, volunteer policing is also growing. There reserve citizen officers operate with full police powers—including authority to use firearms – a practice that can be traced back to the deputising powers of the local sheriff, and which originated in the Posse Comitatus and ‘hue and cry’ of medieval England.

Such developments might sound a long way from New Zealand but in fact are already here—albeit in more limited forms.

Continue reading ‘Plural policing’ should come at a cost

Cops with guns will make us less safe

The new trial of Armed Response Teams (ARTs) in Counties Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury involves sending at least three armed police officers out in patrol vehicles to be constantly available to respond to crimes involving firearms. Currently, police do have armed offender squad officers, but they are dispatched from base to respond to serious firearms incidents rather than being continually present in the community.

The police commissioner has given two justifications for this trial of roving armed cops in cars: community safety and the safety of police officers themselves. The second reason is the real driver, but it will inevitably come at the expense of the first. Cops in cars with guns makes communities less safe, not more. Let’s look at the evidence. Continue reading Cops with guns will make us less safe

The Joker’s Lessons on Male Violence

On Friday night, I sat down to watch a film that some critics have suggested that we should fear and stay away from. It’s called ‘Joker’. This film was pre-emptively labelled as “dangerous”, “right-wing”, ”irresponsible” and even “Incel-friendly” by online critics (Abad-Santos, 2019; Ehrlich, 2019; Thompson, 2019). Several commentaries suggest that the film panders to Incel culture – supposedly at a risk of inciting and celebrating murder, especially mass murder perpetrated by ‘lone’ white men who perceive themselves as marginalized. In a climate where this violence accounts for the clear majority of solo mass murder events, I can understand why there was a heavy police presence at cinemas around North America. I also understand why, in the weeks prior to the film’s release, US military were instructed to be on high alert for potential mass-shootings at film screenings. However, I think the fear response may cause us to overlook an opportunity to understand the social and systemic causes for such violence.

Incels (Involuntary Celibates) are an online group of men who perceive themselves as the losers in the genetic lottery. They self-describe as ‘beta males’ who cannot find a sexual partner, yet desire one. Self-proclaimed members of the group have engaged in horrific acts of violence, particularly aimed against their perceived oppressors: women. Incels are bound by a fundamental set of beliefs known as the ‘Black Pill’ that unites a wider online anti-feminist ‘manosphere’. The Black Pill represents beliefs of hopelessness, fatalism and biological determinism rooted in a selective representation of evolutionary psychological theories. Zack Beauchamp (2019) describes the Black Pill as “a profoundly sexist ideology… that amounts to a fundamental rejection of women’s sexual emancipation, labelling women shallow, cruel creatures who will choose only the most attractive men if given the choice.” Media scholar Debbie Ging (2017, p.12) highlights that such superficial interpretations and recycled theories are used to support Black Pill claims such as “women are irrational, hypergamous, hardwired to pair with alpha males, and need to be dominated”. In my upcoming Master’s thesis, I describe the Black Pill as a philosophical and ideological device used to both explain Incel’s lack of sexual and social success, as well as a radicalisation tool to ‘Black Pill’ other young men. The overall ‘aim’ of the Black Pill philosophy is to reassert a so-called ‘natural’ order of a hierarchical system of racial and gendered oppression. Continue reading The Joker’s Lessons on Male Violence

Banging the Crime Drum

John Buttle

As local elections loom large in our immediate future and politicians scramble to identify a cause to endear them to the public, it is likely that someone is going to start banging the drum about crime. It’s not new, it’s not original, and it’s ultimately detrimental to the politician’s career when their stale and unoriginal ideas, such as boot camps, fail to have any impact.

One of the reasons why the noise created by politicians about crime often appeals to voters is that people are more concerned for their safety than they are actually at risk of being victimized. In other words, many people believe crime to be a larger problem than it actually is. Despite the fact that overall national crime rates have been decreasing at a steady rate since the mid 1990s, in the Ministry of Justice’s Public Perceptions of Crime 2016 survey report, 71% of people expressed the belief that crime was on the increase. However, these same people also believed that their local neighborhoods were safe and relatively crime-free, with only 38% saying there is a local crime problem.

Stuff’s ‘Your Place 2019’ survey asked “Do you feel safe walking, running or cycling after dark in your local area?” and 58.4% responded that they felt safe while 41.6% indicated that they did not feel safe. When asked “Have you been the victim or witnessed crime or anti-social behavior in your area in the past year?” 40.5% replied yes. Given that these two questions focus on people’s perceptions of the local area, the findings of this survey are in line with previous research demonstrating that many people expressed the perception that their local areas are relatively safe.

However, a word of caution needs to be made about these latest findings. The survey asked if people feel safe walking, running, or cycling after dark, but respondents who answer the question as walking might do so for different reasons than those for running or cycling. Someone who is concerned about walking after dark may be concerned about being mugged, while an after-dark cyclist may provide the same response but be concerned about not seeing a pothole and coming off their bike – so the survey does not distinguish between fear of crime and fear of potholes. Continue reading Banging the Crime Drum