Residents of a small Northland community want to work with gangs rather than isolate them.
About 300 gathered at a community meeting at Moerewa Primary School this week to address concerns about anti-social antics and gang-related activities in the town.
Gang members were allowed in and given an opportunity to speak at the meeting which at times turned fiery. Meeting facilitator Peeni Henare said the strong turnout showed the unity and courage of residents to discuss issues that affected them.
He told the Advocate gang members were well-received, as residents felt they were part of the community and were willing to work alongside them.
"We'd work with gangs in somewhat of a healing and mediatory process. That is a key suggestion from the meeting," he said.
"We acknowledged that if we are to deal with the issues facing us, then we'll have to all work together, even though there'll be friction at times."
On heated exchanges between gang members and Moerewa residents during the meeting, Mr Henare said: "I saw it as a passion, and the key message is about the unity of our whanau."
An action group has been formed that will meet soon to progress suggestions floated at the meet. "The solutions must be organic. They must reflect the whanau of this town," he said.
The issues of drugs, alcohol and parenting skills were also discussed, Mr Henare said.
The meeting was off limits to the media and even members of the community who attended said they were not allowed to talk about it afterwards.
Pita Tipene, Te Kotahitanga o nga Hapu Ngapuhi co-chairman, attended the meeting and said the community of Moerewa stuck together in their search for a solution.
He said while residents were unhappy about the presence of gangs, they were challenged by gang members to get their facts right in terms of some of the unwelcome behaviour recently.
Locals had feared that an innocent person would be killed or maimed after in-fighting between members of the Rebels and gang-related violence came to a head lately. Suspected gang related violence included the stabbing of a man in the head.