Gang attacks, home invasions, street brawls, battering of women and children. Murder, rape, and mayhem. We have been living with violence in our community for a long time. Every so often there’s a surge like the recent gang related offending.
Politicians, community leaders, and citizens voice their concerns and march on the streets. Calls are made for tougher Police action. Policy is introduced to outlaw gang membership. Programs to target and assist at risk youth are set up by caring agencies.
We must assume that all efforts to remedy violence in society are worthwhile, but things don’t seem to get any better.
Nearly 10 years have passed since James Whakaruru was murdered in Havelock North by his mother’s boyfriend.
James was five at the time. His death by battering dismayed the community. An enquiry found communication breakdown between the various medical and welfare services failed to share their identification of his obvious risk.
1999 was also the year Splash Planet security guard Hugh Mills was murdered by Dennis Sandilands.
Numerous attempts were made by Dennis’s family to find him help. He had a history of mental illness and violence, and was behaving in such a disturbing manner, they wrote to the Police warning of his danger to society. The Police did intervene but were powerless to apprehend Dennis until he offended.
I was working in the kitchen at Diva in Havelock North at the time. It was then owned by Kim Howard, and KB was the Head Chef.
Alan Duff was a regular. He drank Heineken from a chilled glass. His best selling book Once Were Warriors was a critically acclaimed expose on violence. Alan was known to be a violent man. He ‘sorted you out’ if you crossed him.
He sorted out Dennis Sandilands a few days before Hugh Mills was murdered. Dennis was loud and abusive. Alan manhandled him out the door and Dennis disappeared into the night.
A few weeks earlier the bar was overflowing with celebrating punters from the Kelt Capital Stakes.
Four men with long hair, dressed in Levi’s and black leather jackets, approached the bar. One of the racing blokes called them ‘bogans’ and a fight was on. Kim moved fast and screamed at them all to get outside. They did. KB and I put down our pots and pans and watched.
Prominent local businessmen and farmers were punching it out with the ‘bogans,’ and the host of the big horse race had removed his shoes, and was furiously kicking into the air. It didn’t last long. Word went around that the Police were on their way.
Apparently men have been sorting each other out with violence ever since humans settled territory and acquired possessions.
Archaeological excavations and evolutionary studies reveal human groups were peaceful and co-operative until we developed agriculture and domesticated animals about 10,000 years ago. With the advent of possessions, a predatory hierarchical structure emerged, and humans became aggressive territorial animals. Males, being bigger and stronger than females, assumed the major role in physical defense and attack.
That we have dragged our ‘barbaric’ past into the ‘civilised’ present is no surprise, because the root of man’s aggressiveness, the protection or acquisition of territory and property, remains unchanged.
The range of what is considered territory and property has expanded however, and today in Hawke’s Bay they obviously include the bars in which we drink, a gang’s market share in drug dealing, and women and children. These territories and possessions are aggressively controlled, and when pushed to the extremes, we see children murdered, pillars of the community fighting in the streets, and savage gang rivalry.
Aggression is a paramount feature in a world defined by national boundaries, market share, and resource allocation, all of which are acquired aggressively and defended, either by force of arms or the power of the marketplace. The invasion of Iraq is the outstanding current example of the level of brutality deemed acceptable to control resources. And cheap labour in developing countries is often brutally exploited in the ‘cost of production’ competition for market share.
Competition and aggression are imbedded in most cultures, so much so, violence is glamourised in sports and recreation.
In New Zealand our national sport is a violent game where ‘enemies’ are ‘slaughtered’ if they don’t have the ‘killer instinct,’ and we feel roused by the haka at the beginning of an All Black test, forgetting that the rolling of eyes and tongues represent what happens when the enemy head is boiled up in preparation for eating.
Our televisions and cinemas screen horrific images of assault, rape and murder, video games reward players on their ability to kill, and music lyrics glamorise the gangster lifestyle. This year’s Academy Award winning film was a shockingly violent movie where the ‘hero’ killed with impunity and got away with his crimes. And the latest Batman movie is so dark and sinister one wonders if the subject material contributed to Heath Ledger’s state of mind at the time of his death.
Violence in our society is out of control, but ironically control is what violence is all about. From the man who kicks his partner after smacking her to ground to the Nation that drops cluster bombs from 20,000 feet. They are both using their superior power to subjugate others, and it appears that the more powerful the perpetrator the greater chance they have of getting away with it.
When a wealthy man beats his wife and children in a million dollar home in Havelock North, he is unlikely to be prosecuted as readily as if he lived in a State house. And George Bush will never face a court for his war crimes, whereas Saddam was executed for his.
Double standards and hypocrisy abound in our attitudes towards violence. We educate our kids about bullying and aggression, but show them the opposite. Surely there can be no improvement in societal violence until we stop supporting aggression and violence in even its subtle forms.