Uncle Norm: some thoughts on gangs

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Dear Uncle Norm, I’m appalled that your latest column focuses on the number of patched gangsters on welfare.

You didn’t have the courage to say it out loud, but you implied that gang members should be excluded from pensions.

It would be unfair. The reasons why so many young Maori men join gangs cannot be divorced from the deep-rooted social wrongs of this country. Gangs are another part of the fallout from colonialism, Te Tiriti injustices and racism.

Name not provided.

Your subject is still confronted.

One of the best analysts of our gang problem did his master’s thesis while serving a seven-and-a-half-year sentence at the maximum-security Paremoremo prison – it’s Greg Newbold, professor and author of Recently retired Criminology from Canterbury.

Newbold says society’s woke attitudes make it hard to recognize that the most direct cause of growing gang membership is poor parenting in many Maor families.

“Too many M’saOri children grow up in very dysfunctional families plagued by violence, alcoholism, missing fathers, neglect and poverty. It’s no surprise that many find that a gang brings them a closer and friendlier family than they had in their childhood home,” he says.

“It’s a stupid mistake to try to shift blame for bad parenting to Waitangi or abstract reasons like colonialism. I don’t see any connection between treaty breaches and bad parenting.”

Gang profiles differ from country to country. American biker gangs are notoriously white supremacist – which created some “interesting” moments when an American Hell’s Angels group flew out for a chapter event in New Zealand. Curiously, they reportedly admired each other’s racist swastikas.

Australian gangs too are quintessentially European, but the Comancheros – our neighbor’s most feared gang – are heavily Middle Eastern with many members displaying contempt for their faithless host country.

What differentiates New Zealand most is the depth of gang penetration. Population adjusted, we already have nearly nine times more patched gangsters than Australia. Repeat this slowly – not double, not triple, but NINE times.

Last year’s “official count” of New Zealand patched members was 8061. But no one knows what that number would become if it included the gangs’ surrounding groups – proven “prospects”, friends and the family associates, and the young adolescent the would-be ram robbers and corner dairies robbery.

With shooting incidents in Auckland now seeming to be a daily occurrence, it’s no surprise that last year’s violent crime statistics in Auckland rose by 49%.

Legislation born out of moral panic seems as useful as pimple cream. We have laws from the 1990s prohibiting the habitual association between violent offenders or drug addicts. This fearsome dragnet resulted in two arrests in 22 years, including one who was not a gang member.

Many local government laws would allow gang headquarters to be destroyed due to gross zoning violations – but that won’t happen and won’t happen while mayors wear brass chains.

We can count on gangs to become an election issue of 2023. But with what result? There is little “hardenable” space left in prisons, where gang inmates – who now make up a third of the prison population – are already the main cause of overcrowding.

Which brings us back to Professor Newbold’s treatment of causes and parental concerns.

Among the toughest jobs in the public sector today is welfare work inside Oranga Tamariki. These people are the ambulance drivers at the bottom of the family welfare cliff. Too often, their reward is to find themselves looked down upon by the community they serve.

Uncle Norm knows that a decent conversation should range from sublime to fruitcake. Consequently:

Dear Uncle Norm,

We were recently visited in St Clair by my Great Uncle from Sydney and his shrunken wife, Joan.

Warren (“Wozza”) owns a champion beer gut that swims daily with the Bondi Icebreakers, then waddles home for his post-surf spa bath.

He surf’n’spa-d with us for a fortnight, and every night dragged the brown Speedos he affectionately called “Wozza’s Budgie Smugglers (henk-henk)”. them as his “tic togs”.

Three weeks after they left, I noticed that our laundry smelled bad. The culprit was Wozza’s parakeet smugglers that he had left rotting in a corner. Inside his togs, I found a bug infestation. Not ticks, just dead moths. Those honest Kiwis had died trying to digest Wozza’s Speedos.

My point (sorry, finally reached) is that old men’s used bathing suits need a name that suggests our disgust. Maybe Worm Farms or Bathing Plods? Your thoughts?

Terri Tinling

You’re not the first to raise the sexist-ageist issue of time-worn togs.

The late Fred Allen, an American comedian, discovered that a male visitor had thoughtlessly left his mangy swimmers hanging on the Allen clothesline.

Allen’s scathing letter (offering the conditional return of the togs), variously described them as: loin ware, Neptune drawers, kelp panties, woolen jockstrap, swamp leotard, chastity band and a navel canopy.

Joan did well with the “tic-togs”. I cannot offer any advance on this. Readers?

  • John Lapsley lives in Arrowtown
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