police car in traffic

Armed police patrols puts Māori and Pacific communities at risk

Yesterday, police commissioner Mike Bush announced that squadcars of officers armed with automatic rifles will be patrolling New Zealand’s streets as part of a trial run. A move labelled by police watchdogs as “dangerous and unnecessary”.

Emilie Rākete, speaking on behalf of People Against Prisons Aotearoa, says that police violence against Māori has been escalating for years, with Māori almost eight times more likely to be victims of police brutality.

“We know what happens when frontline officers have guns in their hands,” says Rākete, “We have seen the consequences of a militarized police force in the USA. In a high risk situation, all it takes is a phone or a wallet in a brown hand and our police will shoot to kill.”

In 2017, Stuff reported that more people in New Zealand had been fatally shot by police in the past 10 years than the previous 40 years before that. In the past ten years, 66 percent of people shot at by police, including fatal and non-fatal shootings, have been Māori and Pasifika.

In March last year, police officers fatally shot 29-year-old Jerrim Toms four times in the back, despite having less lethal options available to them. A shootout in March this year saw stray bullets fired by police officers through a wedding venue.

The police and its union, the New Zealand Police Association, have been pushing for police officers to have greater access to guns for a number of years. After the terror attacks on Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, the police and Police Association have used this as an excuse to push for further police armament.

Police commissioner Mike Bush says, “Following the events of March 15 in Christchurch, our operating environment has changed.” 

However, Rākete says that Christchurch police were already armed prior to the attacks. “The general arming of police officers prior to March 15 had nothing to do with the white supremacist terror attacks, and it certainly didn’t prevent them.”

The attacks on Al Noor mosque were committed by a white supremacist, but it is Māori who are almost eight times more likely to be victims of police violence than Pākehā. The racial disproportionality of police violence has been getting worse over the years. 

In cases of mental health crises, crisis helplines are usually redirected to the police, due to a significant lack of funding and resourcing of mental health services. According to police data, one in ten people whom police use force on are suicidal or suffering mental distress.

It follows that Māori, Pasifika, mentally ill, and some other Deaf/disabled people will be the most at risk of being fatally shot by police.

“The Police Commissioner’s plan to put more guns in poor and Māori neighbourhoods will lead to even more Māori being killed at the hands of police,” says Rākete.