I write this as a gang member. This month the Government announced a new plan to deal with gangs. It's something of a pre-election tradition, but let's put that aside.
The Government uses the term "gangs" to apply to everything from international traffickers smuggling methamphetamine and other illicit substances across our borders to individuals who may belong to a group committing acts of domestic violence.
Clearly these are different things. The former is a matter of organised crime, the latter an unacceptable social behaviour.
The UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime defines an organised criminal group as "a structured group of three or more persons, existing for a period of time and acting in concert with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit".
The Government has valid concerns about organised crime, whether it happens in Timaru among elderly white men, in Auckland among the young and brown, or any points in between. It doesn't matter if they belong to a gang or a service club. In that sense the term gang is irrelevant.
The Government has established an Outlaw Motorcycle Border Protection Taskforce with the aim of countering drug trafficking and other crimes. It has also established a Criminal Asset Confiscation Taskforce as a further disincentive to wealth-generating crime.
It all makes sense to me.
But then we come back to these troubling behaviours of domestic violence and the related family dysfunction of trapped lifestyles. The Government suggests that gang members comprise 0.1 per cent of the population aged 17 and over. This grouping is attributed with disproportionate rates of offending -- apparently half the serious offences committed by gang members are family violence related.
The Government's gang policy press release says that in a sample of 50 high-risk gang families, 74 per cent of the children had been abused or neglected on multiple occasions.
It is the stuff so vividly portrayed in The Dark Horse, and the core issue that I believe troubles New Zealanders when we talk about gangs.
One of the Government's strategies is identified as "Start at home" and that seems a sound idea.
However, it envisages a police-centred multi-agency Gang Intelligence Centre that will support investigation, prevention and enforcement while identifying vulnerable children and young people at risk of joining gangs.
This is a pathological construct. If we keep on focusing on the illness we are likely to miss the drivers of wellness. Deal with whanau, not gangs.
We've seen the first report from the Glenn Inquiry -- The People's Report. On reading that document it seemed to me that at last mainstream researchers are becoming acquainted with the underlying principles of Whanau Ora and its strength-based models. Indeed one, designed by the Maori Reference Group for the Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families, seems to be tailor-made to deal with underlying issues of whanau in trapped lifestyles.
The programme is called E Tu Whanau! (Stand up, family!) and although expressed as a Maori programme its application is possibly generic.
The vision is that "whanau are strong, safe and prosperous, living with a clear sense of identity and cultural integrity and with control over their destiny -- Te Mana Kaha o Te Whanau".
The programme is based on a set of simple values:
• Aroha - expression of love/feeling loved.
• Whanaungatanga - being connected to whanau.
• Whakapapa - knowing who you are.
• Mana/manaaki - upholding people's dignity/giving of yourself to others.
• Korero awhi - open communication, being supportive.
• Tikanga - doing things the right way, according to our values.
Last week at an event in Turangi hosted by Ngati Tuwharetoa, Paramount Chief Tumu Te Heuheu E Tu Whanau launched a Charter of Commitment against domestic violence.
It acknowledged that all violence towards whanau is unacceptable within Te Ao Maori and that such acts are considered transgressions that breach the mana and tapu of the individual responsible, their whanau and entire whakapapa.
Not a policeman in sight. Not a gang member mentioned. Gangs are irrelevant. Separate out the issue of organised crime and let's get real about domestic violence.
The Government wants us to start at home. I suggest that E Tu Whanau provides a demonstrably effective response to this complex, intergenerational conundrum we call 'gangs'. Kia kaha e tu whanau!
Denis O'Reilly is a life member of Black Power. In 2011, on the death of 'Burma Bill' Maung Maung, he put down the patch he had worn since 1972 and took up Bill's role of pakeke (elder) with the aim of providing wise counsel.