A Māori teen with a pop gun meets the politics of fear

February 15, 2023

Nā Eruera Tārena

My son’s last day of kura for the year started innocently enough but ended in him having a police assault rifle aimed at him.

My tamariki go to a kura kaupapa. It’s a loving space that exudes the warmth and aroha of Māori culture. The day began with the younger children exchanging Secret Santa gifts, one of which was a small toy pop gun with flashing lights, that at some point was shared around the playground.

Later that afternoon my teenage son, nephew and friends were relaxing in a friend’s car next door to the school when a gang of police cars screamed in, surrounding them with raised assault rifles pointed at our children.

I say children as that’s what they are. They are strong, proud, and caring young Māori men and women. Polite, well mannered, cheeky, caring kids who love singing and kapa haka, and coaching the junior kids in touch and volleyball.

They flourish under the loving embrace of te aho matua – a unique Māori approach to teaching and learning that delivers better outcomes for our Māori kids.

Despite all this beauty, someone saw a child with a toy gun and reported a threat, kickstarting a dangerous chain of events that could have easily escalated into tragedy.

Any parent would dread this scenario, but parents of young Māori men have more reason than most, given that more of those shot by police are Māori than any other ethnicity.

The coming days will judge the police response. I know they were responding to a reported threat, but I do find myself wondering, when did the New Zealand police force begin using arms as its first line of defence in dealing with kids?

And, equally who could possibly have observed the innocence of a toy pop gun and perceived it to be dangerous? Both very concerning considerations.

As I talk to my son, I can’t help but reflect on the recent political and media frenzy about “out of control ramraiders”, despite the data showing only a recent spike in youth crime after years of steady decline.

The approach of David Seymour and Christopher Luxon, who are both peddling old ideas and ineffective policies based on fear, appears to be about winning votes rather than stopping crime.

Blame isn’t a solution – all it does is preserve the complex social issues behind youth crime, and risks creating another generation of victims of racial stereotyping.

We need smart solutions, not soundbites.

Our rangatahi aren’t a threat to be weaponised – they are our future. Something we need to remind both our politicians and rangatahi of.

The politics of fear could have killed my son.