New Zealand was globally praised for its deep and genuine displays of public grief and unity following the March 15 mosque shootings that claimed 51 lives. But four months on, has Christchurch really changed? As Herald senior journalist Kurt Bayer discovered, the answer is probably yes, although some people are unlikely to ever change.
Sitting at traffic lights, hijab headscarf tied back, she watched the family cross the road. Mum, dad and two little kids, all holding hands and flowers. The little girl swung a cuddly bunny. The driver smiled. Her friend might still be lying in hospital with gunshot wounds, and dozens of fellow Muslims had been shot dead two days earlier, but people cared, they really cared.
As the lights turned green, however, a van driver leaned out his window and pointed at her.
"Why don't you f*** off home?"
She drove away, sobbing.
"I just cried and cried. I thought to myself, 'They don't all care. It's all just for show'," the woman in her 20s, who wants to remain anonymous, tells the Herald four months on from New Zealand's worst ever terror attack.
Christchurch has always endured a racist reputation. Skinheads, neo-Nazis, a seedy underbelly of hate. At high school in the 90s, there was the Black Jersey gang, about five of them. To be given the swerve, certainly. But there were hardcore, violent white supremacists too. Asian students jumped and bashed walking home. Dogs unleashed on tourists. In 1989, skinhead Glen McAllister shot and killed an innocent bystander.
Extreme right-wing anti-immigrant groups like The New Zealand National Front held marches and protests. Hitler T-shirts in Cathedral Square. Sometimes, the peaceniks showed up and chased them away.
Then, they all seemed to just disappear. But did they? Or did they just go deeper underground?
The seedy underbelly
Shortly after a heavily armed gunman stormed two city mosques, eastern Christchurch insulation business owner Philip Arps was sent a video of the massacres. The next day, Arps, who compares himself to Nazi Rudolf Hess, forwarded it to a mate. He asked if they could add crosshairs and a kill counter, thinking it would be a real hoot.
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Just across town, Ukrainian migrant and Nazi fanatic Troy Dubovskiy, 54, fired off an email endorsing the actions of the mosque gunman. Armed officers raided his house and found a cache of firearms, including a modified semi-automatic weapon, ammunition, "violent extremist content", Nazi uniforms, helmets and clothing. Dubovskiy died that night during a stand-off with police.
The shootings had stirred up the city's murky undercurrents.
While a steady stream of Cantabs made the emotional pilgrimage to lay flowers and pay their respects at the police cordon surrounding Masjid Al Noor, where 42 Muslims were gunned down during Friday prayer, it attracted a less sympathetic crowd too. Daniel Nicholas Tuapawa, 33, rocked up in a Donald Trump T-shirt and started kicking off. He yelled that he was "sick of all these f***wits", "they need to f*** off" and that "all Muslims are terrorists".
Another guy, William Kapea, 66, allegedly got involved in repeated disturbances outside Deans Ave mosque. He's fighting those charges at Christchurch District Court where Rodrick Woods played "Nazi music" to a group of mosque shooting survivors and told them to "get over it" and that "white supremacists own the land". His shocking outburst earned him a $750 fine. But even afterwards he didn't appear to get it, abusing reporters as he biked off: "F*** you! I didn't do nuffing wrong."
The most public face of Christchurch neo-Nazism over the years has been Kyle Chapman. The former skinhead and leader of the far-right National Front white nationalist group has been keeping his head down. He was contacted for this article but refused to cooperate, saying his words would "only get twisted".
"I dunno mate. I don't really get out and about, I just hang out with my family and that's about it," the 47-year-old said.
A spike in racist complaints
The Human Rights Commission found 108 incidents of "hate crime" in New Zealand between 2005 and 2013, including murders, shootings, a bombing and synagogue and mosque attacks.
Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt came to Christchurch within hours of the massacres. While he's always been fully aware that racism exists in New Zealand, he was still shocked when he saw a freshly daubed swastika on a city street.
The Human Right Commission's free mediation service, where the public can reach out with queries, complaints and concerns, noticed a large spike in calls after March 15.
It was always anticipated that the shootings might bring some undesirables out of the woodwork, police say. Cops on the street with Bushmaster rifles, gun raids, suspicious packages, tracking high-risk individuals, while one of Auckland's on-loan Eagle helicopters patrolled from above, it was mad times in those first few weeks.
District prevention manager Inspector Darryl Sweeney says the unsettled period was a natural reaction in the wake of such a horrific incident, coupled with heightened security awareness.
"In reality though, very little has changed on the ground – we're seeing the same type of incidents involving the same type of people," he says.
'It's going to be a long process'
In the days and weeks following the attack, it appeared that Cantabs were taking a long, hard look at themselves. Thousands turned up in a show of solidarity at memorial events and vigils. The beloved Crusaders professional rugby franchise based in Christchurch is a case in point. Suddenly there was a furore that the Super Rugby team must change name. Critics say it was totally inappropriate to be celebrating holy medieval wars between Christianity and Islam.
It sparked nationwide debate and divided opinions. The iconic horses and sword-wielding knights were axed from their pre-game routines. A brand review is ongoing, and it looks like the knight and sword images will be dropped from the logo for next season.
But the horses made a surprise return for finals footy last month, albeit with rebranded and toned-down imagery, and galloped around the stadium to the rousing Conquest of Paradise theme song as they'd done so every season since 1996. The move was slated in some corners as being tone deaf, and showed that Canterbury had learned nothing.
Canterbury Muslim Association spokesman Anthony Green believes the Garden City will change for the better, but thinks it's going to be a long process.
"There's been some magic stuff, there really has, but the proof is going to be some time coming, I believe," Green says. "Are people asking themselves difficult questions? Are they making different assumptions? Are they seeing things a little bit differently?"
The city's Muslim community has also suddenly been thrust under the spotlight. For years, it was a quiet minority that quietly did its own thing. Now it appears that every move is dissected and questioned. Like the divisions that appeared over the dispersing of the millions of donated Victim Support cash. Some, like Abdul Aziz the Linwood Mosque hero who cased the gunman armed only with an eftpos-card reader machine, who is angered that some people got more money than others.
He argues they are all victims, no matter whether they were shot or injured. There have also been reports of families being ripped apart over the money; arguments over who should get what; long-standing unwritten agreements torn up after loved ones gunned down.
"We've gone from a community just on the fringes – nobody really knew much or cared much – to suddenly being in a sense the touchstone of conscience, and it is a big swing," Green says.
Time to talk NZ racism
At the Linwood Islamic Centre, up a shingle back driveway where the gunman came 17 weeks ago, fresh flowers brighten the entranceway. New bunches come every day, along with home baking and messages of aroha.
"The love from people still continues," says Imam Alabi Lateef Zirullah. "In general, things are getting better. Things have changed a lot. People are learning to love one another, to be there for one another."
But it's not all rosy. Worshippers are still nervous, despite the increased security, the new CCTV cameras. Some are yet to return, preferring to pray in the safety of their home.
"When we walk around now, we don't feel as confident as before," Zirullah says. "We look around and feel suspicious of people, it's not the New Zealand we know. The trauma is still there and the trust is not as strong as before. It will take time."
The Human Rights Commission says Canterbury-specific complaints have tailed off in recent months. But it says the tragedy must provide a "wake-up call" for the entire nation.
"New Zealand is an established, mature democracy so we can have these conversations about racism," Hunt says.
"We have to begin by acknowledging that racism has always existed and it continues to exist. And we have to be much better at listening than we have in the past because some groups – the Jewish community, Māori, Pacific community, Muslim community – they have been saying there is racism in Aotearoa New Zealand for a long time and they haven't always been properly listened to."
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