The Whakatane gangs may have broken a "universal rule" not to mess with each other at a funeral, a top gang expert has revealed.
Yesterday police arrested multiple people after shots were fired at a Mongrel Mob member Tahu Kingi's funeral procession going from Kawerau to Whakatane.
This followed a brawl at the tangi on Friday when a Black Power member was allegedly attacked and run over. The Black Power then allegedly rammed the vehicle containing Kingi's coffin. It is believed the coffin fell on to the road.
Author of Patched the History of Gangs in New Zealand Jarrod Gilbert was surprised to hear of the fighting at the funeral. He said the groups tend to abide by a "universal principle" where you don't hit members' homes, workplaces, family and, he thought, funerals.
"I might have thought a tangi was off limits but obviously there's been a breakdown in communication. Or tensions are so high.
"But if the death came about as part of the war, then all bets are off."
Kingi's body was being transported in a motorcade of about 100 vehicles carrying other Kawerau-based members of the Mongrel Mob from the town to the Whakatane Crematorium yesterday afternoon.
Whakatane's resident gang, Black Power, was allegedly trying to prevent the Mongrel Mob from entering.
The motorcade was escorted by 15 police officers as well as Armed Offenders Squad members.
At about 4.15pm shots were fired near the corner of Valley and Arawa Roads, police said.
A number of people were pursued and arrested.
Police said the Mongrel Mob left the crematorium without further incident.
Gilbert said gangs have been fighting over territory for decades. They can start off as abstract disagreements but once people start to get hurt the situation can escalate quickly.
"These sorts of activities are a throwback to the past when territorial battles were very common.
"As soon as there are individual grievances, genuine grievances, then things can take off quite quickly.
"The tensions between these group are generations old. So they can be sparked by minor incidents."
Gilbert said one difference in modern gang disputes is that police are much better at quashing violence. He thought the police did a great job yesterday at ensuring the groups settled back down.
It is likely the gang elders would also be trying to calm the young members, Gilbert said. There are reports gang recruits from all over the country were coming to the area after the groups called for back up. But with those troops there will be a few "wise heads" who will work to stop further violence, Gilbert said.
"When tensions rise in one town it's certainly common for reserve troops to come in from wherever they can to support their brothers.
"The risk is that you get tit-for-tat battles and that's in nobody's interest.
"Usually much older men have been there done that. They know the destruction of ongoing conflict."
Gilbert said the area had strong chapters of each gang and they had been around since the 1970s.