Apr 8, 2014

Anne Tolley: see no racism, hear no racism, speak no racism

Maori women challenging racism in the early feminist movement
H/T Te Ara

Don’t act surprised. From RNZ:

"The Government is rejecting suggestions Maori are being unfairly targetted in the police or corrections systems the Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell has described as institutionally racist. 
A visiting United Nations delegation says the Government needs to investigate why a systemic bias against Maori is evident in the country's criminal justice system. 
The delegation, which reports to the UN Human Rights Council, says any bias against Maori leading to their incarceration more than other New Zealanders constitutes arbitrary detention and is illegal under international law. 
Police and Corrections Minister Anne Tolley says she has seen no evidence of institutional racism in either police or Corrections. 
"Quite the reverse in fact; there's a lot of work going on. The police are turning the tide and we're very impressed by that work and of course in Corrections the work that's going on to reduce reoffending."

It’s easy when you have the privilege of detachment – and, of course, the authority of objectivity – to deny that racism exists. But even then, Tolley’s remarks are neither a full denial nor a proper admission. Her response is bureaucratic: “the police are turning the tide and we’re very impressed by that work”.

What does that even mean? If the police “are turning the tide” is that an admission institutional racism did exist? Or is “quite the reverse” a denial that institutional racism ever existed? Does it matter? Unfortunately it does.

Tolley’s position doesn’t change the facts: Maori adults are 3.8 times more likely to be prosecuted than non-Maori and 3.9 times more likely to be convicted of an offence. Maori young people are more likely than Pakeha to be apprehended and prosecuted for committing the same offence. This is the reality of the racial hierarchy: the apprehension, prosecution and conviction gaps. But add the health, wealth, education, employment and housing gaps too.

But if Tolley denies that this is the product of institutional racism, she doesn’t have to do anything substantive about it. Her response can be bureaucratic: we are doing [insert glib policy] in hope of achieving [insert rosy outcome] for [insert folksy platitude].

Tolley’s position is profoundly ahistorical. Settler colonialism is based on the denial of indigenous systems and culture. You can’t complete the colonial project – namely to import the capitalist economy and recreate the architecture of liberal democracy - while allowing an indigenous system to co-exist.

The New Zealand experience is no different. In the 19th century Maori were invited to assimilate under the Treaty. In 20th century New Zealand Maori have been invited to integrate under the Treaty settlement process. But under neither regime were Maori offered full membership of the state. Institutional racism made assimilation and integration conditional - sovereignty had to be transferred, discrimination tolerated and wrongdoing (eventually) forgiven. 

Indulge me for a moment and imagine if we started setting some conditions like, say, extracting a genuine commitment to do something about institutional racism. But perhaps a commitment from government isn't necessary. Iwi, hapu, whanau, community groups, national organisations and individuals - of different ethnicities - are doing their best to turn the tide. In many areas, it’s working. Maori do have better access to housing and education than a century ago. But I’m suspicious of the government’s claim to be turning the tide. Here’s why: 

You don't stick a knife in a man's back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you're making progress ... No matter how much respect, no matter how much recognition, whites show towards me, as far as I am concerned, as long as it is not shown to everyone of our people in this country, it doesn't exist for me”. – Malcolm X 


  1. The claim that Maori are 3.3 times more likely to be apprehended for a criminal offence than non-Maori is at odds with statistics used by Te Ururoa Flavell, who told parliament about a year ago that “for the 3495 theft apprehensions recorded as Caucasian there were 588 prosecutions; and for Maori, for the 5660 apprehensions recorded, 1173 resulted in prosecution. In other words, rates of 16.8 percent versus 20.7 percent”.

    The figures Flavell quoted, from a JustSpeak study based on 2011 police statistics, show a difference of 3.9 percent in the rate of prosecution for Maori.

    Moreover, the JustSpeak figures unwittingly showed more offending by Maori. With 5660 thefts by Maori recorded in 2011, compared with 3495 by non-Maori, not only were there more thefts by Maori, but there were proportionally many more since Maori only make up 16 percent of the population.

    1. You're comparing 2 different stats, crime:apprehension vs apprehension:prosecution. The JustSpeak figures showed Maori have a higher rate of prosecution in every category except 1.

      Go ahead and try nit picking though...

    2. Mike: Maori are 3.8 times more likely to be prosecuted for "criminal offences". Did you read the report? Criminal offences cover several categories, but you're quoting theft apprehensions and prosecutions. 3.8 is the figure reached after examining "criminal offences". Theft apprehensions and prosecutions offered in isolation mean nothing to the 3.8 figure.

      As for the Justspeak figures, it is not about the volume of offending. Did you read the post? It's the disparity in prosecution rates. Maori are more likely to be prosecuted for committing the same offence.

    3. Morgan, agreed, since thefts are just one category of criminal offences, here are the figures for 15 categories of criminal offences in the JustSpeak stats that look at prosecution vs. total apprehension numbers for 10- to 16-year-olds in 2011.

      Except for offences against justice procedures, in which 44 percent of Caucasians were prosecuted and 15.3 percent Maori, and except for the three homicides by youth in that year in which no Caucasians were prosecuted for the one homicide and two Maori were prosecuted for the two homicides, and dangerous or negligent acts, there is a slightly higher prosecution rate for Maori, that being an average of 6.53 percent.

      But the total number of offences by young Maori in that year was 18,003 and for Caucasian 11,686 – which means there are still many more and proportionally many more by Maori since Maori only make up 16 percent of the population.

      How is blaming racist cops and blaming the wicked white coloniser going to solve the high rate of offending by young Maori?

    4. The stats can say what they like. For those of us who have experienced it and know what it is like to be pulled up and not just breath tested but the whole car checked including tyres and the question asked about who the late model Commodore belongs to....or perhaps those of us who have kids over 18 years who walk home from the pub and take less public roads for fear of being questioned by the police as to what mischief they are up to........or as adults who choose to leave the car at the pub and walk home after a few brews and have the police ignore the rowdy group of wiggas walking ahead but will pull over and question you and your husband as to who you are, where are you going and what are you doing out and about? My sons ask us all the time why they are treated differently as maori males and we have to explain to them that institutional racism exists and judges you on your ethnicity first and then acts really surprised when you don't have a criminal record, achieve highly in education and speak the queens English very well with proper vowels and no pidgin English. If you haven't experienced it then you cant understand it....but I know one of Bill Englishs' electorate staff members saw it 1st hand last rugby season when they had a backseat full of Tongan forwards and whilst her husband was being breathalysed the other officer checked their expensive 4WD over from top to bottom....she was appalled by how they were treated and the way they were spoken to and the boys told her "it happens all the time"
      I don't know how to fix it but I know its there and I'm sad I have to teach my boys this lesson in life.

  2. Anne Tolley, stick your head in the sand long enough and you'll start to believe your own lies. It happens, the attitude of the police towards Maori is sickening. How do you stop a culture of intimidation, when it is deeply embedded in their everyday practices. When a complaint was made about Police intimidation and lies, I was told that at the end of the day, it is my word against theirs, and who do you think would be believed?



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