Denis O'Reilly is right - there is a difference between indigenous gangs and criminal cartels.

But it is a subtlety that right now, is a bridge too far for many of us to appreciate.

O'Reilly is a high-profile lifetime member of the Black Power.

This week, he responded to Napier MP and Police Minister Stuart Nash's announcement of extra funding that will help tackle organised crime.


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Nash says when we talk about gangs, he likes to talk about organised crime.

"There are some very, very bad people who are running some of our gangs. This is why I talk about cutting the head off the snake.

"We want to go after the people who are responsible for peddling methamphetamine into our communities."

Fair enough - but O'Reilly reckons the government should differentiate between organised crims and indigenous gangs.

He's right - there's a school of thought that indigenous gangs have provided a sense of belonging and whanau that for whatever reason, an individual hasn't found outside of a criminal fraternity.

And if that's so, somehow reconnecting people with their culture could well be part of the complex equation that allows a person to denounce the gang lifestyle.

O'Reilly is closer to gangs than most of us reading this, so when he says he believes there is potential for gangs to get involved in paid employment such as fruit picking or road building, we should listen.


But the challenge remains that while we listen, we don't understand. Why would a gang member pick apples when there are lower hanging, more profitable fruit available through criminal means?

Are Hawke's Bay orchardists going to hire patched gang members to pick fruit.
Or ex-members making a fresh start, sure. Here is where many people don't make the differentiation that O'Reilly is asking for.

Paid employment for gang members is an honourable aspiration.

So is cutting the head off a meth-spitting snake, although amputation doesn't mean you won't get bitten.

And here is where O'Reilly is bang on with his observations - you can kill the snake but you still have gangs left.