Category Archives: Commentaries

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

‘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

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

Drug Reform Bill: Glimmer of hope or ‘get tough’?

The Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill has passed its final reading and will come into law in the near future. More than anything, I want to join in the chorus of positive sentiment around this bill, particularly because people and organisations I admire and am inspired by have encouraged it through its at times rocky ride in parliament. But I just can’t be wholly positive about the changes the bill will engender.

Let’s also be crystal clear that the bill does not decriminalise all drugs, as some online enthusiasts have suggested; it legalises police discretion in deciding whether to prosecute and directs police to use a health-based rather than a criminal approach.

This is not the same as decriminalising all drug use. And herein lies one of the problems – embedding discretion further into our justice system will deepen existing inequalities. The use of discretion will continue to over-police already stressed and marginalised communities often subject to the harshest policing practices.

Most of the proposals in the bill add to the failed, outdated Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and the ineffective “war on drugs”: the reclassifying of AMB-FUBINACA and 5F-ADB as class A drugs; the creation of temporary class orders, all enacted as “get tough” measures to address the harms from synthetic cannabinoids.

Unfortunately, these kinds of measures do not work in effectively addressing or reducing the harms from drug use, nor do they effectively reduce or address the demand for drugs like synthetic cannabinoids. “Getting tough” on drugs and those who supply them has not helped us in over four decades of the “war on drugs” – it has filled prisons with low-level users and dealers, often suffering from addictions themselves. Continue reading Drug Reform Bill: Glimmer of hope or ‘get tough’?

Rape victims deserve radical justice changes

By surdumihail, commons.wikimedia.org

Incrementalism will only take us so far, as the ‘system of injustice’ for sexual violence victims requires a transformational approach.

Back in the mid-1990s a New Zealand judge, the Hon Justice E. W. Thomas, wrote an article slamming the lack of justice accorded rape victims by the very system in which he held office. Rape, he said, is “the most vicious and reprehensible crime in the criminal calendar”. Our courts failed such victims, he asserted, a reprehensible occurrence since “the violated woman should not be victimised a second time”. The law changes announced this week by under-secretary to the minister of justice Jan Logie are, he would be pleased to see, oriented towards “ensuring fairness and safety for victims of sexual violence in the justice system”.

The changes proposed include giving sexual violence victims the right to choose by which means they give their evidence in court, training and supporting judges to intervene to protect complainants from inappropriate or aggressive questioning, and ensuring the availability of specialist assistance for witnesses who need it in order to maximise their ability to understand and respond to questions. Changes will also be made to ensure rape complainants can trust that they will not have to share the same waiting spaces and bathrooms as defendants and their family/whānau while attending trials.

These moves deserve to be roundly applauded. They are evidence-based initiatives that should help to prevent some of the most brutalising aspects of the existing system. However, much of what is being mooted could be viewed as basic rights that should have been recognised years ago. When it comes to rape, our justice system still languishes in the dark ages. It is also difficult to comprehend that many of the changes articulated were not introduced by the previous government, given the extent of the information they were provided with from the Law Commission and other sources urging the dire need for reform. Continue reading Rape victims deserve radical justice changes

Seeping Supremacy

 

Wikimedia, thanks to A T Carroll

On 20 March, it emerged that 10 years of public documents from NZ spy agencies contained zero mentions of rightwing extremism. Yet narratives invoking racialised fears and myths of Pakeha superiority run deep.

We have officially experienced two acts of terrorism in New Zealand. The first was the bombing of the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior ship by French government agents in July 1985. The second is almost too painful to write: our sadness, anger and confusion for the white supremacist massacre and maiming of Muslim New Zealanders at prayer is profound.

For now, we have to attend to our personal, community and institutional needs – recognise those we have lost, mourn, support those victimised in all ways possible, reassert our community relationships, change gun laws, investigate whether security agencies ‘dropped the ball’, and provide accountability. All of these things, and others are vital today and in the years ahead.

Yet, we might also reflect on the structural and societal underpinnings of this terror. Because despite their significant differences in nature and impact, these forms of violence are bound together through their ultimate expressions of supremacy. Continue reading Seeping Supremacy

‘Terrorism has No Religion’

Flowers at the Kilburnie mosque, Wellington

 

‘… and death shall have no dominion’ — Dylan Thomas

The only way to begin, is by joining in sorrow with those bereaved in Christchurch on 15 March, and remembering and respecting the fellow humanity of those who, so painfully recently, were also living. Of course, we must find a way to comfort those made fearful by this terror: especially since such fear-making was its major purpose.

There are some crimes of such moment that we always remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard. The assassination of John F. Kennedy is one such that is often named; September 11th is another. The latter was a terrorist attack that was made for showing on television; I heard it on the radio and obstinately refused to watch TV for two days. The Christchurch massacres were made for propagating the terror and ideology via the internet. I am not yet clear about what this means, but it is obvious that it is significant, and that the jumbled ravings of the killer were put together with gleanings from the Web. He says so, in his pre-murder ‘manifesto’. Police and politicians cautioned us not to watch the video footage. Indeed I had no stomach to do so. Yet I spent the night reading the weird manifesto, which was easy enough to get hold of early on. Continue reading ‘Terrorism has No Religion’