Stories of ruthless and random attacks on gay men in and around Aucklandâ€™s gay night hub Karangahape Road have been shared as community members joined in a united push for solutions, and safety.
More than 50 people gathered at the Pitt St Methodist Church tonight to address concerns about violence against gay people on Kâ€™ Rd. They included local residents, gay bar patrons, bar owners, local body members, an MP and representatives from the Kâ€™ Road Business Association, Body Positive, police, the NZ Prostitutes Collective and a local primary school.
Among those who shared brief stories was one person who had both lived and worked on Kâ€™ Rd for ten years but no longer resides in the area because they donâ€™t feel safe.
Another person who spends a great deal of time on Kâ€™ Rd said the violence is worse than itâ€™s been for 16 or 17 years.
One of the meetingâ€™s organisers, Karen Ritchie, said she wished there was a community police officer with a permanent presence on the street, as there has been in the past.
She said crime is out of hand. â€śI see it all the time â€¦ I feel that somebody is going to get killed up here.â€ť
A number of attack victims also spoke, or had friends share their stories. They included Urge owner Paul Heard, who was assaulted by five men outside his bar on the Rugby World Cup opening night. He was unhappy with the reaction of the responding officers, who have since been disciplined, as Senior Sergeant Rod Salt later advised.
Heard noted that a friend was attacked just last week, as reported by GayNZ.com Daily News. That has resulted in four teenagers facing assault charges.
Heard said they see and hear about violence all the time, â€śwe see the behaviour that goes on at that end of K Road,â€ť he said, speaking of the Urge end, towards Ponsonby Rd.
Simon Stockley spoke of being pushed out in front of a car on Kâ€™ Rd in 2011 which left him with such a severe leg injury he had to have knee reconstruction.
Other stories GayNZ.com has reported were also recounted, such as that of a 23-year-old gay man who suffered a broken eye socket, a shattered cheek and concussion when he was bashed and had his head slammed into the footpath in late December. His friend Jenny Brown shared how since that attack she has been acting as a â€śtaxiâ€ť for her gay friends, ensuring they get to and from gay bars safely. She is a non-drinker who lives a fair drive away in East Auckland and said she just wanted them to be safe. â€śI shouldnâ€™t have to be their taxi. They should be able to make that five minute walk,â€ť she said.
A resident of Boardman Lane said he only needs to look out his window to see disorder. â€śIf theyâ€™re not fucking, theyâ€™re fighting, or pissing, or excreting â€“ but always drinking.â€ť He said cars were being vandalised right outside his lounge window â€“ but by the time he called authorities those responsible were always long gone. â€śIf the police canâ€™t do anything about it, what can we do?â€ť
What is already happening?
Barbara Holloway from the K Rd Business Association spoke of the work already being done. She explained that when she first came into the job nine years ago every Monday morning the streets were smeared with blood. Now there are security patrols seven days a week, and most heavily at peak bar times.
Holloway was questioned firmly about the security patrols, with many at the meeting feeling they were nearly invisible and ineffective: â€śStraight up, theyâ€™re useless,â€ť said Kevin Dunseath, who is Miss Ribena and Family Barâ€™s hostess by night. â€śIf thereâ€™s trouble they donâ€™t do anything about it.â€ť
Holloway said feedback vitally needed to be given to the security teamâ€™s bosses at Auckland Council about these concerns.
She added the issues were being caused by people â€śpouring in from south and west Auckland,â€ť and drinking in car parks, and the only groups not causing problems in the area were young Asians and the gay community.
Holloway said the Association is running a Crime Prevention through Environmental Design programme and was the only such association in the country doing so. She said putting marketing money into safety was â€śdownright depressingâ€ť as it should be the job of the police to look after safety. She pledged the Association would work with any groups on K Rd.
There was also mention of work bar owners themselves are doing through the group K Rd Licensees in Control and the fact that 20 different bars are on an RT system so bouncers can inform each other of trouble or ejected patrons they should look out for.
Labour MP and local resident Jacinda Ardern also explained upcoming changes to licensing laws which will allow local areas more say over opening hours of bars and whether to have one-way door policies to stop people from tanking up away from bars and clubs.
What can police do?
Senior Sergeant Rod Salt was one of two diversity liaison officers at the meeting and when he spoke the senior officer with clear passion for justice for the GLBT community pulled no punches. He said while staffing levels are a major issue in the central district, and police are stretched on Friday and Saturday nights and end up carrying out â€śsqueaky door policing,â€ť any police officers not doing a good job when it came to taking assault complaints seriously was â€ścompletely unacceptableâ€ť.
He said he was passionate about helping and urged anyone with issues about how they were treated to contact him or any other diversity liaison officer.
Ardern came to his aid and spoke about police resourcing, making it clear the staffing situation was a political issue and not one for frontline police to have to speak to. She was critical of the current freeze on the police budget and said there needs to be a zero tolerance approach to street drinking in the area, but also enough police to resource that approach.
Where to from here?
Those at the meeting agreed that half a dozen or so people should start a group that could liaise with the Council, MPs and police on community violence issues. There was also mandate for further open community meetings to keep the ball rolling.
Many ideas were conjured up, from signs telling people they are being watched by security cameras to closing off side streets so people canâ€™t drink in their cars, setting up a community safety zone and having LGBT Ambassador patrols.
Ritchie summed up what seemed to be the feeling of the meeting at the end, saying that after 25 years enjoying K Road at night she is gutted at how bad things are. â€śLetâ€™s reclaim our road. If you want to come into our street, come in and party with us, donâ€™t party against us.â€ť
She promised to keep pushing for change and solutions. â€śI am a bit like a dog with a bone. Iâ€™m not prepared to let this go â€¦ we need to ensure we do everything we can to ensure nobody else gets hurt, and that nobody gets killed.â€ť