Protestor / SouthSide Photography NZ
I know NZ likes to think that we are different.
Our government is competent, as the last two months have shown us. Our police force is compassionate. Within our team of 5 million is a safe place to be. The U.S. and NZ are experiencing vastly different things right now. So we don’t need to bring the #BlackLivesMatter protests into our country, yes?
I can’t say I agree.
There are many ways in which we are similar to the U.S., where the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have led to escalated protests, and these are the reasons why we need to stand with #BlackLivesMatter.
Because we are both countries built on colonisation, and the cities that light up our landscape and the roads that connect them were built on appropriated land, with dispossessed resources. We impoverished many Māori communities and actively smothered their culture. The effects of disenfranchisement don’t fade over a generation. If left to settle in, they might never even fade on their own. They need uprooting.
Because the experience of racial minorities in New Zealand is similar to that of the U.S. After Christchurch we were collectively reminded of that. Before Christchurch, some people didn’t need a reminder. It was and is their lived experience. These are the people who see their communities stereotyped weekly on Police 10/7. Those who’ve had people cross the street to avoid them. Those who are praised for (the highly impressive feat — you know, considering — of) speaking fluent English.
Because we both have justice systems that do not fully serve our communities. Māori and Pasifika populations remain incarcerated at disproportionately high rates. Pasifika people are 3 times more likely than Pākehā to be victims of police violence. Māori are nearly 8 times more likely. Because law enforcement — no matter which country they police — should not have the power to be judge, jury and executioner in one.
Because police brutality can happen here, too. As a response to the Christchurch shootings, armed police teams were installed in Manukau, Waikato and Christchurch for 6 months. This decision was made without democratic input, and its implications for communities of colour and differently-abled individuals were immediately concerning. 3 people were killed. All were Māori or Pasifika.
Because even if we were completely different, we shouldn’t be indifferent. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Neutrality is complicity. Silence is violence. All the paint-on-a-protest-sign quotes that better minds have created. When it comes to racism, to police brutality, to the appalling lack of consequences for murder when it’s committed by police, those slogans are all true.
Because we Kiwis struggle to find our voice sometimes. I’ve learnt to read the rooms I’m in to avoid coming across as overly polarising when I talk politics and race relations, though now being palatable is the last of my worries. For all the times I didn’t want to use my voice, there are people who use theirs to incite division. There are people who refuse to speak about such political issues. There are people who don’t think they have a voice of their own.
When the global community raises our voice, we are making the calls for police demilitarisation, accountability and justice stronger.
Because the violation of human rights is a human — not political or cultural — issue.
Because it’s the right thing to do.
Because enough is enough.
That’s why we should stand with #BlackLivesMatter.