We came across this mean korero by James Ihaka (reporting from Gisborne ) and would like you to read his korero on gangs, the roles they have played in our communities in the past and taking a freah look at their future.
Manu Caddie says the community has tired of the Mongrel Mob’s ‘crap’ and its presence has started to diminish. Photo / Christine Cornege
It’s a Wednesday morning outside Gisborne District Court and three teenage and tattooed girls are smoking roll-your-own cigarettes and exchanging earthy small-talk.
The group refuses to speak to the Herald but one waves a well-known gang insignia with her fingers, revealing a red scarf wrapped around her wrist.
Casually chatting to the trio is recently elected councillor Manu Caddie.
Mr Caddie, who moved from Wellington with his partner to make Gisborne his home 13 years ago, later tells the Herald there are two types of kids in his suburb of Kaiti that will end up in gangs.
“The ones who come from gang families, the majority of them will be on the treadmill – a direct route in,” he said.
“Then there are another group of kids who don’t come from gang families but whose families can’t provide enough security or support so the gangs become their kind of surrogate family.”
He said it was understandable how “the mob” got a grip on the disaffected in Kaiti, where 40 per cent of youths are in single-parent families and 40 per cent of adults have no formal qualifications.
Not helping the issue was a severe lack of jobs, after two of Gisborne’s biggest employers, the Weddel freezing works and Watties, closed in the 1990s.
“With unemployment there was a sense of loss in the community and suddenly you had families not providing the care and nurturing they should have and from that you get a generation where the peer group becomes more important than the family,” said Mr Caddie.
For some in the predominantly Maori suburb, the Mongrel Mob filled the void.
But Mr Caddie said the community had “tired of their crap” after years of intimidation and the gang’s once highly noticeable presence had started to diminish.
“There’s still the attraction for some young people to get into them but there is a concerted community effort and pride in saying you’re from Kaiti now.
“More people are concerned about their neighbourhood and want to do something about making it better.”
Among those is Mere Pohatu, a trustee with the community group Ka Pai Kaiti.
The voluntary initiative runs several projects promoting child safety and well-being, gardening skills to grow vegetables, art projects to address graffiti vandalism and working with local schools to keep children there.
“My focus would be to get to the families who are getting on with it, and the key for us is to get to these people early on before they get into trouble,” said Mrs Pohatu.
“For some kids, not going to school could be for quite simple reasons, like not having the right shoes or lunch to eat. We try to get them to go back there with a little bit of dignity.”
Mrs Pohatu said there was a “growing resilience” against gangs in the community but more skilled volunteers were needed to effect change on a street-by-street basis.
She said sports clubs, churches and marae needed to get on board as the community infrastructure was not cohesive enough to deal with the issue.
The principal of Kaiti primary school Te Kura Reo Rua o Waikirikiri, Yolanda Julies, is doing her bit to keep her pupils out of gangs.
When she started at the decile-one school four years ago, some children would show up in class with gang regalia, while others played truant and their parents couldn’t care less.
But under Ms Julies’ regime there has been a focus on educational achievement, pride, professional development for teachers and a positive social skills programme for pupils.
The school’s latest Education Review Office report praised its teachers’ monitoring of student achievement in order to develop strategies to improve reading levels.
The kura has also seen parents getting more involved in their children’s learning and extra-curricular activities, and it runs pampering and jewellery-making sessions for mothers, and father-and-son breakfasts.
“We’re trying to instil pride in who they are and to teach them just because you know someone in a gang doesn’t mean you have to go there too,” said Ms Julies.
“School for many of these children is now seen as a safe place and a good place to be. Some don’t want to go home when the day finishes.”
Former Mongrel Mob sergeant-at-arms William Grace said many gang members were “sick of all the humbug and rubbish” of gang life and wanted out, but didn’t know how to go about seeking help.
But he and other ex-gang members, including some of his old rivals from Black Power, now preach the gospel through the Te Kakano o Ihowa trust.
The trust’s members go through their neighbourhood teaching consequences of good and bad behaviour and respect.
Mr Grace believes they are making a breakthrough with some of his old mates.
“You can have all the certification in the world but if you haven’t lived the life you’re probably not going to make sense to these people.”
- Veteran youth worker never gives up
- Sport takes sting out of Killer Beez
- Social investment pays off in peace on street
Tuesday: Ihumatao (Mangere)
Friday: Kaiti (Gisborne)