The streets of no shame

He is, says detective sergeant Neil Grimstone "just an average 14-year-old South Auckland boy". He is not, he adds, "the average 14-year-old New Zealand schoolboy".

Now concrete-slab thrower Ngatai Rewiti is something other than average. He's a killer. And that, his friends say, is "cool".

On the night of August 19, Rewiti went out with his little brother and a friend. He turned the corner from Albert St, where the family lived one road back from the motorway, and walked past the corner dairy.

The kids in Otahuhu all walk the same: shoulders thrown back and heads down, jeans halfway down their backsides. They would have wandered from the shop to the remains of a row of state houses, broken up by bulldozers and road crews enlarging the motorway.

There, Rewiti found the 8kg concrete block that he would lug on to the overbridge. A witness at the trial recalls watching an "athletic" boy passing under a streetlight as he walked uphill towards the overbridge. Rewiti was swaying under the weight of something heavy.

A young friend of Rewiti's stood lookout. He told the Herald on Sunday at the time: "He [Rewiti] jumped up on the rails to see what cars were coming. There was a red car coming. Ngatai saw it and dropped the rock."

It took the police some time to connect the concrete slab that killed Chris Currie with the overbridge. When the news broke the following Sunday, a neighbour of the lookout was rung by family in Whangarei. "Was it your boy?" she was asked. She thought it could have been, even though it wasn't. That morning in Otahuhu, many mothers wondered if their sons had become killers.

By Monday, Otahuhu College was filled with the news. A boy who lived near the lookout came forward to police to tell how it was Rewiti who killed Currie. By Wednesday, the whole school knew. I asked a student then who the killer was: "Ngatai Rewiti," I was told.

The same day, I found the boy who acted as lookout for Rewiti on the Princes St overbridge. When I asked him how he felt about the accident, he said, "Sad. Not for that man, but for Ngatai. He's my mate."

On Friday, the day after Rewiti became a convicted killer, I went looking for the lookout again. He was with five boys, who all want to be Rewiti. They want to be hard; they want to be "street". Their language is the language of American "gangsta" movies. They hunger for violence.

One, who gave evidence, talked about how rapper Tupac Shakur "spat at the cameras" when he came out of court in the United States. When the boy left the High Court in Auckland this week, he gave the media the finger. "I hate the cameras," he said, then posed for photographs.

The boy who reported Rewiti to police lived just doors away from the lookout, said the boys.

"I'll cut his fingers off. Put salt on them. Put lemons in his eyes," said one. He's 14, small for his age, with a cap that says "Otara" across the front. His basketball shoes bear the same legend, in red writing. It's not love for Otara that makes him wear it, but a sardonic tilt between South Auckland's 30 or more youth gangs. They'd burn each other's flags, given the chance. They don't have flags, so he wears the opposition town on his head and feet.

"They are soldiers, we are thugs," said another boy.

On Friday, as the boys were promising death to Otara, a lobby group called Family First drew a parallel between the Rewiti conviction and the deaths of the Kahui twins. Family First's Bob McCoskrie, who lives in affluent Alfriston, asked where Rewiti's parents were, if they felt they were accountable and if the family was a suitable environment. Neil Grimstone feels the same: "You're always a product of your upbringing."

It seemed a simplistic view in the Otahuhu driveway where the boys smoked dope around a ghetto blaster and talked about "smashing heaps of people". Two expected to be in jail in 10 years. "We'll probably all be in jail," another agreed.

An older boy, aged 18, had just been released from Mt Eden Prison. Only one of this group was in school. Some of these boys can't read properly - in the stand two witnesses struggled to read their own statements. Asked what they aspired to, one said: "To be an older gangsta."

There are good parents in this neighbourhood. A few doors away lives the neighbour who worried that her boy had become a killer. She frets. Both she and her husband work hard. She works nights and her husband works 70 hours a week, paying the rent and feeding five children. But at night, her boy is out with the others. He stays over at the lookout's home. At 13, the appeal of the gang is greater than that of the family.

"He doesn't smoke cigarettes," she said of her 13-year-old son. "He doesn't smoke dope or drink but he hangs with people who do." He goes to Otahuhu College - sometimes - and she gets calls from the attendance officer.

"We had a Once Were Warriors upbringing, my husband and I," she said. That's what they want to save their son from. "But it's hard in Otahuhu. There's a lot of gangs that go from suburb to suburb picking on boys who are not affiliated. If you're not affiliated with one, you're history."

Rewiti's friends are affiliated. They estimate their gang of "thugs" is 30-strong. It's called TKS, which doesn't mean anything in particular.

"We just like the sound of the letters. T. K. Esss."

On their hands and arms are tattoos, some signifying old allegiances. One has the "C" tattoo of the Los Angeles Crips gang. He is just a teenager, but it already has the faded blue of age. Another has a blue bandanna in his back pocket; Crips colours all the way. The allegiance, or understanding, doesn't stretch far. It is thought the Crips gunned down and killed their other hero, Tupac Shakur.

A psychiatrist's report to the court last week said that Rewiti was mentally disordered and unable to communicate properly. By the measure of the company he keeps, he is indeed that ordinary South Auckland teenage boy. These boys get high and play PlayStation2 for fun, or they wander the streets. Wasted, they play R16 games in which they carjack and kill. In Grand Theft Auto, you can hire hookers and kill them after sex to avoid paying.

Asked who else has thrown objects at cars from motorway bridges, three raised their hands. "Not big stuff though," said one. Then they talked about how it was Chris Currie's fault for being in the wrong lane.

Next Sunday it's Chris Currie's birthday. He would be 21. As his dad Wayne waited for the jury's verdict on Thursday, we talked about how children were a product of their parents.

He sat in court, watching Otahuhu boys give evidence in the death of his King Country-raised son. He despaired at some boys' inability to read the statements they had given police. Some seemed confused at their own evidence. The mechanism of justice, which seemed a badge of honour for the boys, was deeply unsatisfying for Wayne Currie even before the verdict.

When the jury passed its verdict of manslaughter, Chris Currie's family slipped out the side door of the High Court and left in taxis. It's a route usually used by those accused of crimes, or their families, to avoid waiting cameras. When Rewiti's family left, they walked out the front.

Rewiti's younger brother, who was also on the bridge that night, left with them. He's achieved the sort of fame TKS adores - a Tupac Shakur-style exit from court, captured by the cameras for the evening news.

Today, he's back in Otahuhu, where gangs of children roam the streets.

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