Well as you know, I wanted to see the footage of Rawiri Falwasser in his police cell, and now thanks to the media we can: http://www.3news.co.nz/Video/National/tabid/309/articleID/73669/cat/64/Default.aspx#video
Mr Falwasser is locked in a cell and repeatedly pepper-sprayed by several police officers. The cell is so small it must have been very difficult for him to breathe. The footage shows him being hit with a baton, and the head injury this caused.
The Police Association believes the video footage will result in “trial by media”:
“These officers thought the video was their friend in this situation, and it was – when seen in its entirety. However seen segmented and edited it will be the enemy, not only of the officers but of police and the justice system in New Zealand,” O’Connor says.
This argument is difficult to follow.
Mr Falwasser was not able to hurt anyone, he was locked in a cell.
Why not leave him there to calm down for as long as he needed? There is no reason why force needed to be used at all in this case.
In 1992 US police officers were acquitted of assaulting African-American Rodney King – but their actions were captured on video, and the acquittal sparked riots in Los Angeles.
In the UK in 1993, Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager, was killed by a group of white men in London. The inadequate police investigation was subject to an internal police inquiry published in 1999 – the Macpherson Inquiry – which found the London police were guilty of “institutional racism” and made 70 recommendations.
The Rawiri Falwasser case is also subject to an internal police investigation. Will the police wash their hands of any wrong-doing in this case – as Greg O’Connor’s comments indicate? Or will they use it as an opportunity for reflection and change?
The problem with institutional discrimination is that it is very difficult for those involved in the institution to see how it operates. Institutional discrimination is difficult to recognise because ‘it’s just how things are’. A similar incident involving four Maori police officers and one, unarmed, imprisoned Pakeha man – in which the Pakeha man was repeatedly pepper-sprayed and then hit with a baton – would be likely to cause outrage in New Zealand. And it would be likely to be described as racist.
But Rawiri Falwasser? Here in Aotearoa/New Zealand, where we have the best race relations in the world? Where Maori men who owned land were eligible to vote in 1867 – compared with arguably 1962 in Australia for Aboriginal peoples, and 1960 for indigenous Canadians?
Voting is just one measure of equality f’sure, and while I do believe Aotearoa/New Zealand has significantly better relationships between peoples than any country I have lived in or visited, there is a danger in being too self-satisfied about racism.
Rawiri Falwasser was beaten and pepper-sprayed while he was unarmed and locked up. The people who did this to him, at the moment, face no consequence – because a jury ruled their actions were not assault.
Perhaps fortunately, rioting is not, very often, the New Zealand way of dealing with things we do not believe are acceptable.
But what happened to Mr Falwasser should provoke debate and analysis of how our police are behaving – and not only among Maori.
The October 15th raids last year were seen by Maori as racist in intent and action, partly because Tuhoe peoples, including children, allege they were treated as criminals by the police. The Clydesdale report which discussed the lack of contribution to the economy made by Pacific Islanders (yep, all of ’em) got widespread press coverage – until a range of academics and media analysts pointed out the report was based on shonky evidence, and written by a researcher with no mana in the field. Asian New Zealanders feel so under attack – with flashpoints including murder – that earlier this year they marched in their tens of thousands to say they are sick of being victims of crime.
The signs are here in Aotearoa/New Zealand that our race relations are under pressure in ways perhaps not seen since the 1970s dawn raids and 1981 Springbok tour. I say we use what happened to Mr Falwasser to insist on scrutiny of police behaviour towards all people of colour.
After the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, a BBC documentary went undercover to check out racism in the Manchester Police. Reporter Mark Daley was a police officer for seven months, and found:
In my time within the police, I encountered dozens of probation officers and senior officers, most of whom do their job with the highest of professional and ethical standards. I make no attempt to tar all officers with the same brush.
But the covertly filmed evidence against some of these men – and the allegations are not confined to GMP officers – is compelling. What I found was a police service trying very hard – and failing – to put its house in order…
Racist abuse like “Paki” and “Nigger” were commonplace for these PCs. The idea that white and Asian members of the public should be treated differently because of their colour was not only acceptable for some, but preferable. I had become a friend to these men. They trusted me with their views. And they believed I was one of them.
Should the media here be brave enough to try something similar, what would we find?
What about gender? The media could back up the Beazley Report into police conduct in terms of sexual assault allegations by going undercover and finding out if police do investigate rape allegations fairly.
The Independent Police Complaints Authority needs to do its job here, and examine police behaviour towards Mr Falwasser. Otherwise the gulf between the New Zealand which Pakeha want to believe we live in, and the New Zealand which non-white New Zealanders experience is at further risk of becoming a chasm.
Undercover journalism, anyone? I reckon I’d make a terrible police officer actually, but I’ll give it a (baton) whirl.