I got a phone call this morning from an irate friend.
He’s a loyal ACT Party member, successful small businessman and has no criminal record.
He’s also an ex-gang member, or has he would say, an ex-Motorcycle Club member.
He was pissed off that Rodney had voted for the anti Gang Patch Bill before Parliament. I’d been assuring him for weeks that Rodney would never vote for it.
I was shocked. Why would Rodney do it? Rodney’s a libertarian who cares about individual liberty more than anything else. I’m still stunned.
Here’s Rodney’s explanation. What do you make of it?
Do you think Rodney’s intimidation arguement is valid?
Unfortunately, I don’t.
From the ACT Party website.
Rodney Hide’s speech to the Third Reading of the Wanganui District Council (Prohibition Of Gang Insignia) Bill; Parliament; Wednesday, May 6 2009
I rise to speak on this bill.
As I understand it, whether this bill succeeds or fails today will swing on my vote. It is certainly something that we have been discussing at length. First up, I should say to Mr Chester Borrows that he has done an outstanding job as an MP and certainly as a parliamentarian of answering my questions and our party’s questions on this bill, and certainly Wanganui is very, very lucky to have the hard-working MP Mr Chester Borrows. There are not many MPs who can shuttle a bill through to its third reading on behalf of their electorate.
I should also, as Minister of Local Government, congratulate Mayor Michael Laws because he has done everything by the book, in terms of a local government bill, and has gone further and run a referendum to sample the will of the people of Wanganui as to their view on this issue.
I stand here as a libertarian, which means I believe that the fundamental job of Parliament and of a Government is to protect our freedoms, and in particular to protect the freedoms of minority groups. It is not enough for a majority to oppose what a minority might think, what a minority might wear, and how a minority might behave. The actual minority’s interests and rights have to be protected. That is why we have the law.
Accordingly, I said during the first reading of this bill that I could not support it. I said that I never would. I said that the law should be concerned not with what gangs wear, but with their behaviour—their bullying, their violence, and their intimidation.
That is where in this debate, within our caucus, and with the members of our party we have engaged in a heck of a debate. I have listened carefully and I have gone through everyone’s contribution on the issue. I listened with particular care to what Mr Keith Locke had to say. Much of what he had to say resonated with me – that we do not want to be in a society that regulates what one can wear. I just wish Mr Locke had followed that principle through and voted against the Electoral Finance Bill, which has seen me come under police investigation because of my yellow jacket.
And there is a party – in fact, two parties – that voted for a law to make it a crime for me to wear my yellow jacket. So I find it a bit rich when those members come up and say that gangs have a right to wear whatever jackets they like but Rodney Hide does not. I find that a bit rich.
But here is where it gets interesting – and this is why it is tough for us, for our caucus, and for our party – clearly, in a free society people cannot just go up and bash other people in the face. Clearly we cannot do that – that is against the law. Likewise, people cannot go up to other people and threaten to bash them. Even though no one has engaged in the physical violence of the threat, that cannot be done because that is intimidatory behaviour.
So the question we have to address here – and it is about a line to be drawn – is whether in fact the wearing of a gang patch is in itself intimidation – akin to threatening to hurt someone, and akin to saying “I am going to throw a punch.” That is the question we have to resolve.
Clearly, we outlaw intimidation. That is why we despatched Mr David Garrett to Wanganui to talk to people, and in particular to ask some very basic questions. Here is one: why do we need to criminalise the wearing of gang patches? Clearly, we do not want to criminalise the wearing of a yellow jacket, as Labour and the Greens did.
The answer came back that the wearing of gang patches in public, particularly by people in a group, frequently precipitates violence because of the gang code, which makes it virtually obligatory upon other gang members to rumble when they come across patched gang members of a rival gang. So everyone in Wanganui knows that if a gang patch is on display, and another gang member comes along, there will be a fight. That is the code under which those gangs live.
So if rivals come across one another when not patched, they can abuse one another and shout at one another, but they do not automatically resort to physical violence because their gang code does not require it. They have had problems, like the example outside the Work and Income office in the middle of the day, where the mere action of wearing a gang patch has seen a fight break out. And the people of Wanganui know this; that is why they want this particular bill.
The question was also put to the police: “Will you enforce the law?” That question was a legitimate one that we asked, and that Labour asked – “Will it be enforced?” – and we also asked whether it would make a difference. The area commander said “Yes, you have my word it will be enforced.” He said that the police would be looking on closed circuit television and be after gang members with patches if they breached the bylaw that the city council had made.
They had feedback that was very interesting. In the silly code of the gang a member does not want to lose his patch, because that is to lose all his status. So gang members themselves have said that if this law passes into effect they will not wear their patches. Why? Because then they would run the risk of losing them.
So gang members themselves have said that they will not wear their patches if this bill becomes law. What is the question, then? That is about gang members fighting one another, which in a way they can do. But what is the effect on other people? Is there intimidation from the patch for people?
The answer to that was clear, and it was explained in this example. In popular public parks, such as the well-known Disneyland-themed children’s playground, the mere arrival of one patched gang member will see families leave, with their children, because they are intimidated. They know that the arrival of one patched gang member could precipitate another gang member into causing a fight, because that is the experience of those families.
Interestingly, the arrival of a gang member without the patch will not cause that intimidation. It is not the look that is causing the intimidation; it is the patch. I say that it is a tough line to draw, but clearly, in this example, the wearing of a patch on a jacket is intimidation of law-abiding citizens, and I am prepared to give the good people of Wanganui the opportunity to make a law so that they can choose how they want to live, and so that the police can enforce that, for people to live free of the intimidation and fear they have been suffering.
They have my vote.