Hate Crimes in New Zealand

February 25, 2017 in General

Following a disgusting incident involving three young Muslim woman and a drunken Hamilton attacker, there are renewed calls for hate crimes legislation. It’s an emphatic response, but why is it occurring now?

One answer is “Donald Trump.” Granted, the Pacific Ocean and thousands of miles seperate New Zealand from the United States and its newly incumbent president, but Trump has polarised opinion considerably within both New Zealand and elsewhere in the world. In the United Kingdom, Conservative Speaker of the House of Commons David Bercow has stated starkly that he does not believe that the US President should be permitted to address the House of Commons, and there is serious objection to the ‘fascist tangerine’ (to use one delightful turn of phrase) being allowed to meet the Queen. The Muslim travel ban has also galvanised public opinion against the Trump administration, leading to emphatic statements of support for refugee and asylum seeker rights in New Zealand, Canada, Western Europe and elsewhere. That has not stopped grave escalation in the number of aggravated sectarian anti-Muslim assaults occurring within the United States, which are undeniably hate crimes.

In New Zealand, matters are quite different. When Mehpara Khan and three Muslim women were returning to Auckland and had to use a toilet in the rural town of Huntly on February 11, 2017, they were set upon by an inebriated woman who yelled racist and sectarian abuse at the trio, threatened them with assault, threw beer cans at them and attacked their car. The result was that Megan Walton (27) was later arrested and pleaded guilty to the three charges of assault, and has said that she is suffering from mental illness herself and feels that the Waikato DHB and mental health system have failed her. Still, the result was a gratifying expression of nationwide solidarity with the Muslim community and an absence of the racist and sectarian polarisation that has occurred in Australia and the United States, and, as noted above, renewed calls for hate crimes legislation in New Zealand. This may be attributable to the fact that there are more Hindu and Buddhist immigrants to New Zealand and that Islam is only New Zealand’s fourth largest religious behind Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. Police Commissioner Mike Bush has called for the introduction of hate crimes legislation in the wake of the assault, but Justice Minister Amy Adams has questioned the need for such statutory safeguards, stating that the assault was an isolated incident. One only hopes that is the case.

What about LGBT communities? Some would argue that the tragic murder of Ihaia Gilman-Harris demonstrates that we are still at risk from hate crimes, although others would argue that Mr Gilman-Harris was particularly vulnerable to attack because possibly, he was an itinerant takatapui tane whose preferred erotic objects were young underclass men whose assertive toxic brand of masculinity legitimises aggression against those who are on the ‘other’ side of dichotomies around gender and sexual identity, and that this therefore places takatapui tane at particular risk due to their social proximity to such young men. However, this has meant that such young men are treated in court as murderers and sentenced as such, because they do not have the verbal fluency and reasoning skills to adequately fight criminal prosecution, paradoxically. That may be why Mr Gilman-Harris’ murder led to few LGBT community calls for hate crimes legislative response- because his two young assailants were recognised as participants in aggravated assault and homicide and proportionately convicted as such. There was no mitigation of the offence to manslaughter or arguments that the sexual orientation of their victim justified a mitigated sentence when the final verdict was handed down. Are takatapui tane, whakawahine and fa’afafine more vulnerable to such violence in the New Zealand context? It has been several years since a pakeha victim of transphobic violence died from her injuries- Diksy Jones, in 2012. Paradoxically, the destigmatisation of difference may have contributed to a situation where hate crimes are treated with diminished toleration by the general public due to the social distance of their underclass assailants from norms of New Zealand civility and liberalism.

Whether the excuse is racism, religious sectarianism (as in the Huntly case), disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, socio-economic background or any other discernable or implied social identity criterion, hate crimes are beyond the pale. What happened to those young Muslim women was completely unjustifiable and potential perpetrators of any such activity need to be given the strong message that such activity is subject to strong condemnation in this country and will not be tolerated. The current government may not want to introduce such legislation, but strong social sanctions may be just as effective.

Recommended:

Anna Bracewell-Warren and Simon Wong: “Muslim Kiwis attacked in Huntly- Get out of my patch!” Newshub: 12.07.2017: http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2017/02/muslim-kiwis-attacked-in-huntly-get-out-of-my-patch.html

“Jury: Gilman-Harris death was murder” Gaynz.Com: 24.04.2016: http://www.gaynz.com/articles/publish/2/article_18203.php

Mei Heron: “Police consider whether hate crime law is justified” Radio New Zealand: 13.02.2017: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/324562/police-consider-whether-hate-crime-law-needed

Charlotte England: “Donald Trump blamed for massive spike in anti-Muslim hate crime” Independent: 16.02.2017: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-blame-islamophobic-anti-muslim-ban-hate-crime-numbers-southern-poverty-law-center-a7582846.html

Isaac Davison: “No need for hate crimes offence in New Zealand, Justice Minister says” New Zealand Herald: 15.02.2017: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=11801083

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