Gangs no-go area for teens

By CARLY UDY


Fresh out of school and quickly enveloped in the leather-jacketed wrap of Black Power, the head of one of three chapters of the gang in Tauranga was just 15 when he became "patched". Today he is 47.
He is acutely aware of the eyes on him as he strolls through Tauranga's Historic Village. This is where we have agreed to meet for our interview.
The sun is shining. It is lunchtime and cafe-goers blatantly swivel their heads.
There is a tall blonde girl walking with a patched member of Black Power.
Spread the width of each muscled forearm is the Black Power symbol _ an upturned fist.
The attention brings an uncomfortable smile to his face, as he looks straight ahead. "See what I mean," he says, one hand simultaneously pulling down blue wrap-around sunglasses.
He is referring to moments ago in our interview, where he, and another patched member from his chapter _ aged 42 _ said wearing the name and patch in public, almost always brought undesired stares, mostly from police.
"They'll watch you ... pull up next to you while you're walking," he said.
But how could you not?
This gang leader is the sort of staunch guy you can't help but look at. The skin on his arms and knuckles are inked with tattoos, and the lace-up leather vest he wears is customary to gangs.
He wears the vest over a Black Power T-shirt, paired with light coloured blue jeans.
For this gang member, the "BPs" are his life.
His parents died when he was a child, and as he was emerging from adolescence, Black Power offered him a second family.
"To me, they were a family, a big family. They're the ones I trust," he says.
He has three children and a partner, but they don't have as much to do with the gang.
"I try not to take them [my children] to the headquarters, better to be with their mum or go to their aunties.

Because my stuff with the BPs is my stuff," he says.
"It's not the life for them. I want to give my children a change of life away from the gang ... I don't want them to go through what I've been through. It's been an awesome ride and it's still an awesome ride. My children, I want them to stay at school, go all the way through, get as far as they can."
The chapter boss says because his children have both their parents, they don't need the gang like he did as a boy.
"But it [the Black Power family] will always be there for them though, if they ever need it."
But what about other people's kids? Or ``wannabes' sporting the blue bandanna of the Crips _ are they welcome at the headquarters, I ask.
"They can't come in. It's not the sort of place for younger kids to be. At the age of 18 I think you're old enough to make your own decisions," he says.
There are currently no patched 18-year-olds in his chapter. It is at this point in the interview I feel compelled to ask him about the film Once Were Warriors.
There's a scene in the movie where Nig (actor Julian Arahanga) has his initiation ceremony into a gang, which includes tattooing and torture.
I hear it's a rigorous process to get patched, I say.
"Who told you that," he hits back.
"All depends how bad you want it," his fellow gang mate intercepts.
The father of four also became "patched" as a teen _ "My family was there but they weren't really interested in what I was up to."
His "boss" adds: "Yes, and no".
"I agree with some of what happened on there [Once were Warriors]. But I haven't seen it like that ... Although, it does happen. In some areas that is part of the initiation ... sometimes. They [each gang] have their own rules."
He says it's not hard to leave the gang, but there's "always a hierarchy ... just like a job".
Is Black Power a violent gang, I ask.
"I wouldn't say that," he says.
What about their involvement with organised crime? This president denies there's such a thing in his chapter.
"We know the truth and the truth is we don't do any of that stuff."
So there's no organised crime, I say.
"There may be, but not a part of our group. Not a part of this chapter. Not If I've got anything to do with it."
Really?
"Yeah, really."
He claims the most serious crime he's ever committed is car conversion at age 15 or 16.
Did you stay out of trouble after that?
"Not really ... But as you get older you sort of slowly change your ways."
When asked about tensions between Black Power and the Mongrel Mob, he claimed there currently weren't any.
Will that last for long, I ask.
"I can't say yes and I can't say no," he says.
He told the Bay of Plenty Times the public should not be in fear of gangs.
"It's hard to get people to believe what you say [about gangs]. The only way for them to find out is for them to get out there and see it. I'm sure they wouldn't see what they're making us out to be. We want to work, we do work. We live life just like them. The stuff they don't know, they make up," he said.
"We keep to ourselves. We like our town to be peaceful too," he says.
"We're just like everyone else."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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