For many people, the sporadic outbreaks of gang violence that have occurred in the past couple of years may feel like the start of something new and unnerving, largely because gang violence went quiet for the first decade of the 2000s. But gang violence is far from new.
In fact, New Zealand's most serious incident of gang violence occurred around this time of year in 1979, but it wasn't the violence that was surprising at that time – that was rather commonplace – but the responses to it may prove illuminating for us now.
When I visited the small Northland town of Moerewa for the first time in 2014, it was a sunny, warm day and it, like many places up that way, was friendly as hell but gave every indication that it was struggling; crumbling around the edges and sharply poor. But on August 3, 1979, it was a warzone.
The violence at Moerewa had its genesis in South Auckland, where the Black Power and the Stormtroopers had ongoing tensions, and a violent assault by a Northland Black Power member on a Stormtrooper in Ōtara led to a large and orchestrated campaign for utu.
A number of vehicles stuffed full of Stormtroopers headed to Northland looking to even the score in a decisive way. Whether it was poor planning or the drinking along the way that meant they never confronted their enemy is unclear, but what is clear is that they mindlessly smashed up the Ōkaihau Hotel and destroyed a police car before converging on the Moerewa pub.
Police were called in from around the region, but many had to be diverted to an armed robbery of the Whangārei KFC, meaning those who arrived at the Moerewa pub were outnumbered and in real trouble.
The police calls for the gang to disperse were ignored, and their efforts to confront the 40 or 50 gang members were unquestionably brave; one gang member described those efforts as "suicidal", as the police were attacked with a number of makeshift missiles and weapons.
Police officers were separated and beaten. One was grabbed and punched and kicked by six gang members. Others fared worse. A police van was set on fire and a police officer and gang members attempted to throw Senior Sergeant Charles O'Hara into it, chanting "burn the bastard" as O'Hara called out "mercy, mercy!" He was eventually rescued by his colleagues and members of the local volunteer fire brigade.
Another surge by the gang members led to police shooting a gang member in the thigh, but despite that Constable Davis was beaten to the ground and kicked unconscious. As the attack on him continued, Constable Turton braved his rescue while being attacked himself. Davis was saved but was unconscious for 48 hours and suffered massive facial and head injuries.
Exactly how the whole riot was halted is unknown, at least by me, but one witness reckoned it was a shotgun blast by a local resident who'd had enough. A large number of the gang members took off, and 24 were arrested.
Police made the arrested men walk a gauntlet whereby police stood on either side of a corridor and beat them. No complaints were made. It was a different time for policing. Such violence was expected and accepted.
As a direct result of the Moerewa violence, the police purchased riot gear, including the PR24 batons that were introduced to the New Zealand public during the Springbok tour of 1981.
In the 1979 police annual report, the Police Commissioner made direct reference to the riot and a surprising conclusion: "As advocated by some, the gang problem cannot be eliminated by force. Whatever short-term gains that may accrue, the long-term results would be greater disorder."
The fact is gangs had been targeted by team policing units that were controversial to many, and some had linked their hard-line tactics directly to the gangs turning on police at Moerewa.
Even more surprising, politicians tended to agree. Despite one government MP musing about the return of capital and corporal punishment, across the political divide politicians acknowledged that simply attacking the gangs was creating more harm than good.
Immediately after Moerewa, Parliament adjourned for an urgent debate. Both the National Government and the Labour opposition focused on the root causes of gangs and sought to tackle the problem's causes rather than its symptoms.
Even the tabloid Truth newspaper halted its relentless campaign of calling on police to smash the gangs to acknowledge the importance of the political thinking.
Serious gang violence was common at the time, but the gangs so actively turning on police was enough to shake politicians into a genuine drive to consensus and away from political point-scoring. For that alone, it was remarkable.
• Dr Jarrod Gilbert is the director of criminal justice at the University of Canterbury and the author of Patched: the History of Gangs in New Zealand.