May 24, 2012 Where is the Justice in all this?

Dr Leonie Pihama

May 24, 2012 is a day that will be remembered for some time. It is a day when two Maori men of Tuhoe and Maniapoto have been sentenced to imprisonment for 2 ½ years on charges that the Crown and Police turned to in desperation after the debacle of the so-called ‘Terrorist Raids’ of October 15, 2007. May 24, 2012 is a day where a descendant of Parihaka and her partner remain awaiting final sentencing for home detention, but is judged that Parihaka can not be the ‘home’.

There has been much coverage of this day with those in the court posting online and tweeting as the judge moved through his process of imposing what can only be viewed as sentences based on charges he determined rather that what those the defendants were actually found guilty of. The content of the trials and the process needs to be written and spoken of by those that know it most closely. Those that sit outside can only speculate on many aspects of the case. However, what is clear is that we have three Māori people from Tuhoe, Maniapoto and Taranaki, and a Pakeha ally as Political Prisoners in Aotearoa. The response to that has been rapid. As we would expect. The first line of protests have begun outside the Mt Eden prison. There are protests being called for around the country and more to take place this weekend.

An appeal is to be lodged and there has been a clearly developed Police public relations campaign across the media and online. That is what I want to comment on in this blog. Over the past five years the Police have drip-fed information to the media as they sought to gain public and media support. The slow process of feeding information was such that even mainstream media at times found it highly frustrating, to the point that the NZ Herald questioned the Police approach in the article ‘Secret Justice is No Justice At All’ (Herald on Sunday Sept 11, 2011) and stated:
“It is reasonable that the state should remain tight-lipped about what went on in Te Urewera until after the rest of the criminal charges have been disposed of – or abandoned. But the secrecy that has shrouded this affair from the beginning does not encourage optimism we will ever be told. Yet official openness is what is needed. The prosecution of this matter, the first serious case brought under the Terrorism Suppression Act, has been a conspicuous mess. The charges’ validity under “incoherent” legislation has failed to satisfy the Solicitor General and now evidence without which the Crown felt unable to proceed has been ruled inadmissible, a finding which is at least suggestive of flaws in investigation, procedure or interpretation of the law.”

The Police response to the sentencing today continues the arrogance that the Police have taken throughout the last five years and is the same arrogance with which the Police initiated their raids in the early hours of October 15th. The use of the media by the Police has been carefully planned including the presence of News cameras on that morning at the moment that Police forcibly entered properties in Wellington. Police press releases today have relied heavily on their version of events that have already been proven in a Jury trial as lacking true substance. The evidence in regards to terrorism was regarded as inefficient when the Solicitor General declined the Crowns request to bring charges under the Terrorism Act. A range of charges were dropped over the five years due to lack of evidence. But today the Police Commissioner strongly advocated that there was sufficient justification for Police actions on that day. Strange really, given the series of events over the past five years.

So what does the Commissioner have to say and how might we understand his latest media propaganda. Lets look at a range of statements made today online:

1. “It [the raid] was not aimed at any iwi whatsoever”

The commissioner indicates that the raids were on many people in many locations. However, he continues to fail to provide any legitimate reason for the closing down of the entire Ruatoki community and the extreme use of armed Police throughout the entire community. There was no lock down or armed cordons in the streets of Wellington that morning. That only occurred on Tuhoe lands.

2. “It was a serious situation that required a serious response”

Clearly the questioning of many of Police tactics and of the actual ‘seriousness’ of the situation has been ongoing. The Solicitor General denied Terrorist Act Charges, the bulk of those arrested that morning had all charges against them dropped and a Jury found the ‘Urewera 4’ not guilty of serious charges. So Mr Commissioner, where exactly is the serious evidence?

3. “ I make absolutely no apology at all for the investigation, for the arrests, for the prosecution and I think the NZ Police should be thanked by the public for getting of that rot out of the Urewera at that time…”

So we have an unapologetic Police Commissioner, who has ensured there is a strong public relations machine in place for this day, why? To justify why he is unapologetic it seems. ‘Surprise, surprise’ or perhaps more appropriately ‘same old same old’. It is clear to our people that colonial oppressors and their institutional enforcers do not see any fault in their acts of oppression. In fact, in our colonial history we have been told many times we should be thankful for all kinds of things. This is not new to us. It is merely a new take on an old story. What is even more offensive is that the Police Commissioner refers to a group of predominantly Māori people as “that rot”, and in some distorted sense of reality he believes we should be thankful. I don’t think so Commissioner Marshall.

4. “Of course we have had no explanation from Tame Iti and the accused… “

Are you serious? How does this align with the notion that the burden of proof lay with the Police? It simply doesn’t! The Commissioner at this point attempts, unsuccessfully, to turn the gaze on to those charged and asserts that they must somehow state or prove their innocence, even after a Jury indicated that this was not an organized criminal organization. More importantly we have yet to have any seriously legitimate explanation from the Police for their actions.

5. The Police “abided by the law all the way through …”

Except of course the illegal monitoring that happened over months and which contributed to the dropping of a range of charges as the phone taps and surveillance equipment was deemed illegal. Which then led to this government pushing through a new surveillance regime via urgency in order to enable other ‘illegal’ monitoring.

6. “They brought shame on the people in those various locations up and down the country and they brought shame on the people of Ruatoki”

This is perhaps one of the most arrogant, obnoxious statements from the Police Commissioner today. With this statement he attempts to lay the blame for Police actions at the feet of those harassed on October 15th, and to advocate a divide and rule scenario by pitting those charged against their own communities.

Clearly the Commissioner has no real knowledge of the communities from which Tame, Rangi, Emily and Urs descend. These are communities, these are hapū, these are iwi that know the oppressive actions of the State and who have known them for 200 years. Tuhoe and Taranaki know the invasion tactics of the Crown and of previous colonial regimes. Our iwi know that strategies of the Crown and their enforcers, whether those be colonial militia or contemporary military and Police forces. The attempt to ‘blame the victims’ is an old stategy, it is a well known strategy of oppressors and abusers, because to ‘blame the victim’ is ultimately to protect the perpetrator.

Protecting the perpetrator has been a strategy throughout the past five years. There has been a process of denial of information, of lack of evidence, of the Crown and Police pushing the boundaries in an attempt to get some form of affirmation for their actions. There has been no sense of justice shown throughout the past five years. Whanau lives have been destroyed in multiple ways, communities have been devastated on many levels, and there has been no justice for the Urewera Four, or for those arrested on that morning, or for those whānau, hapū and iwi that suffered at the hands of armed Police. That makes the Police Commissioners comments today even more offensive and abusive of those involved.

As Annette Sykes posted tonight
“Political prisoners on their own land… in their own nation at the peril of the real criminals walking around free still unapologetic to the families hugely affected by their ‘militia-like’ actions – the police – where is the justice in all this?
Kāhore he kōrero tua atu i tēnā

About Te Wharepora Hou

Te Wharepora Hou is a collective of wāhine who are mainly Tāmaki Makaurau based, but we have strong participation from wāhine based elsewhere in Aotearoa and the world. We have come together to ensure a stronger voice for wāhine and are concerned primarily with the wellbeing of whānau, hapū, iwi and all that pertains to Papatūānuku and the sustenance of our people.
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