The gang shooting in Taradale gives every impression of being an organised ambush. It was also a sign of changing times.
Taradale is a small Hawke's Bay community known for many things including its lazy river and a wonderful old Pā site etched in the side of the hills. It's what those of us familiar with the gang scene call a Blue town, the colour of Black Power. And in that sense it's a real outlier.
You see, the Hawke's Bay is Mongrel Mob turf. Hastings is seen as the gang's Fatherland, where in the 1960s a bunch of manly Pākehā teenagers began to call themselves "Mongrels".
Legend has it a judge called them that, but there's no evidence for it. And there's also some who say the origins were in fact further south, in the Wellington region, but, either way, Hastings and all of the Hawke's Bay is dark red; the colour of the Mob.
And in the middle of all that sea of red, like a little island, is Taradale. To carve out that area, the terribly outnumbered Black Power had to hold a firm line. Violence was received and delivered in the 1970s and 80s in quantities seemingly long forgotten. This was a time when gang wars were fought up and down the country. A time when brawls in pubs were commonplace, and brawls in family homes common, too. It was a more violent time.
The gangs were younger then. Teenagers or men in their early 20s; ages when violence is quicker to occur and the consequences less considered. It was during this period that gang territory was divided up between Blue and Red, and some other colours, too, notably those flown by the outlaw motorcycle clubs.
By the late 90s and into the early 2000s, two undeniable things happened. The gangs aged, and the territorial disputes dropped away. And those things are undeniably linked. Older men, bones more tired and minds more mature, aren't so quick to go to war, and indeed aren't so quick to violence generally. Conviction and recidivism data prove that.
So for a long time the country enjoyed relative calm in the gang scene. But then, just like that, the scene began to grow.
If you want to put a date on it, it would be in 2008 when the Rebels – the largest of Australia's 'bikie gangs', as the Aussies call them – set up shop here. Other new gangs followed and many existing ones reacted and became more relevant.
New people came into the scene, and it began to feel fresher. They took on a cleaner-cut look, with bling and flash sneakers replacing dirty jeans and bogan haircuts. The gangs, in the eyes of many, looked cool again. Social media promoted and propelled the trend. The generational barriers that had slowly built up over the years came crashing down and youth began to flood the scene. For the first time since the early 80s, the average age of the gangs was dropping, and dropping markedly.
And in large part, it's these young fellas who are playing up now.
And so we find ourselves in Taradale, with the Mongrel Mob bringing Red to a Blue area. The act of provocation acknowledged by the trespasses who brought at least three guns. But this wasn't a single breaking of the calm in the little town. The troubles here have been brewing for a while. There has been tit for tat violence recently, some known to the public, some not. Both sides blaming the other. The truth rooted in the complexities of gang dynamics.
But one thing is certain: when members of the Black Power saw the Mob, they were forced to stop and respond, even though they were outnumbered more than five to one. That's the way it works. Black Power and their whānau see Taradale as a sanctuary. And that needed to be protected. When one Black Power member advanced, he was shot. Bleeding, he called out, "You'll have to do better than that!"
But the one statement that the public heard was that by Eastern District Commander Superintendent Tania Kura who said that the gangs were "beyond the control of the police".
In the isolation of a newspaper headline, the statement was taken by many as a sign of weakness, that somehow police had lost control. It wasn't. It was a sign of understanding and intelligence.
Kura was making the point that gangs are more than a law and order problem. The law and order the police can take care of, but the social and economic drivers that feed gangs are not solved by the tools in the police toolkit. Kura said effective actions will require "the help of the community and the whanau," an important point that didn't make so many headlines.
When we talk of gangs, most ignore the fact that gangs also involve girlfriends and wives and children. Uncles and aunties, neighbours and friends. They are deeply embedded in our poorest communities. Many Pākehā reading this will be shaking their heads. Most Māori will be nodding.
The gangs are a complex social phenomena, grown from complex social problems. They involve intergenerational poverty, education failure, overcrowded housing, family abuse, poor health, truancy, and drug and alcohol abuse.
Regardless of what resources you throw at police, they will not be able to tackle those problems. The police will only ever be a part of the solution to gangs. An important part, but just a part.
Superintendent Kura was entirely right to point this out, and she should be applauded for it.
Dr Jarrod Gilbert is the Director of Criminal Justice at the University of Canterbury and the lead researcher at Independent Research Solutions.