Apparently South Auckland police have been instructed not to ticket Māori drivers caught driving without a licence. Instead theyre to refer them to community services for support. Predictably, New Zealand political Facebook groups have gone ballistic. At least one of them banned people from discussing this topic just because the comments were coming in too thick, fast, and nasty.
This wasnt a Government policy release, by the way. For a rare wonder a New Zealand news outfit actually seems to have done some digging; less encouragingly, theyve pounced on a point guaranteed to get the Anti-PC Brigade frothing at the mouth about Mowreys getting special treatment. Those of us who have the patience to read past the headline soon encounter the sentence
And police say they have the discretion to do the same for non-Māori drivers, but thats not spelt [out] in the document.
Which makes the statement a few paragraphs down all the more puzzling:
So how do police determine if a driver is in fact Māori? Police whom One News has spoken to in South Auckland say they find this confusing and they have not been with singling out Māori [sic] in the first place. They say theyve raised concerns with their bosses but have been told its a new policy and they have to get used to it.
Well, heres a hint, guys: you have the discretion to do the same for non-Māori drivers, so how about you go ahead and act on the new policy whenever youre in doubt? (The Equal Justice Project reports that the policy has been in place for over ten years, its just that this one document happened to mention Māori in particular.)
One News didnt follow up the bit where the police said the aim was to reduce Māori offending. I was never exactly a professional journalist even by the standards of student magazines, but I would have known enough to ask how the police thought that was going to work. Since they didnt ask, we can only guess. Is it naïve to hope that the police are twigging on to the fact that people who cant trust them arent likely to listen to them? Probably.
See, there was a time when my partner kept getting pulled over for licence checks when she was driving. After this had happened several times she asked one cop why hed picked on her. He answered General condition of the car. And that car was in pretty shabby condition she got rid of it soon after. You see the logic: drivers of shabby cars are more likely to be unlicensed, or committing some other crime that you can bust them for (such as cannabis possession), than the population average. Therefore, pulling shabby cars over will net them more arrests than randomly sampling the driving population.
Thing is, you can get rid of a shabby car. Unfortunately, exactly the same logic applies if you replace shabby car with brown driver. Its not that theres an especially strong correlation between being brown and being unlicensed or criminal; a weak correlation would be enough. What makes brownness a tempting criterion for profiling is that its visible at a glance, whereas more relevant variables like ones degree of economic desperation or anger towards society are even harder to detect than the crimes themselves.
The problem, of course, is that this isnt fair. And its unfairness causes two major problems, which together come back around and create a vicious circle. One is that people denied justice by the state are often left no choice but to pursue it themselves, a phenomenon which accounts for the great majority of violent crime. The other is that when a visibly different minority group are often seen in handcuffs or the dock, this creates a certain impression about them in the minds of the majority, which throws obstacles in the path of innocent members of the group whenever they seek employment, rental accommodation, bank loans, or what-have-you; and that, as well as being unjust, further undermines the minority groups incentive to trust the system or obey its rules. I would confidently bet that these two conditions fully account for whatever real correlation there might be between brown skin and criminal behaviour.
So if South Auckland police have figured this out, and are trying to redress the balance that their own profiling practices have thrown off-kilter well, better late than never. But good luck trying to get this countrys media to present that side of the story honestly.