The New Zealand Police coddle anti-vaxxers and punish climate activists

Content warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of police violence.

Yesterday, people watched aghast as thousands of anti-lockdown protesters converged on Parliament. In the lead-up to the protest, people were posting threats of violence on Telegram under their real names, and several placards carried similar threats; at least one protester was carrying a noose. Unlike other anti-lockdown rallies, this one had a somewhat substantial police presence, but the police mostly stood by, making no arrests. A tepid police statement read that the protesters were peaceful, but that their decision to break Level 2 restrictions was ‘disappointing’.

What fewer people know is that last week, the police sent 6+ police cars to coerce, brutalise and arrest people from a group of 25 or so climate activists in Wellington. Our protest was actually peaceful — not at death threat to be seen — but took the form of direct action, meaning that we confront people in power directly rather than appealing to the authorities to fix things. This work is crucial for climate action, as it’s abundantly clear that governments are unwilling to legislate against climate pollution in an effective or timely way.

Direct actions usually (though not always) involve a much smaller group of people than the big rallies. They are often more time-consuming, require greater planning, and carry higher risks of arrests and police violence. On Friday the 5th of November, Parihaka Day, climate activists around the country attempted to disrupt climate polluter businesses during their working hours. In Taranaki, activists chained themselves to the gates of a Fonterra factory and briefly disrupted their production chain. In Wellington, we paid visits to the offices of Fonterra, Todd Energy, Bathurst Resources, and the New Zealand stock exchange.

All the places we visited had locked off the office floors, so we could only make it into the lobbies. At the Fonterra headquarters, we dropped a pile of cow manure on the tiled floor, symbolically asking them to take their shit back. By the time we got to our next location, police were on the scene blocking off our access to the lifts and pushing us around. As we walked down the road, the police ran up behind us and tackled an activist to the ground. They pinned back the activist’s arms (let’s call them T), kneeled on their back and severely bruised their wrists. T yelled in pain as we filmed the officers and tried to de-escalate the situation. “T, breathe, breathe, look at me,” said M, keeping eye contact with T through the legs of the police. The officers told us to stand back so they could do their work, pushing a couple of young women backwards. T screamed again as the police slammed them into the ground. “Stop resisting!” shouted one of the officers.

As they put T in the back of a car and we walked on, I felt sick with anxiety. For various reasons, I wasn’t willing to get arrested, which made the situation almost more frightening for me because I did not know how to emotionally prepare for what might happen. I had not technically done anything wrong, but police are unpredictable and can be violent while only rarely receiving consequences. The New Zealand Police did it at the Weapons Expos, they’re doing it on Waihekeand they do it to minorities for simply walking around.

After we left our last location, the police followed us and arrested one of us. As they put cuffs on her, another activist tried to hold on to her bag, so they arrested her as well for ‘obstruction’. “Now, you have a right to protest — ” began one of the cops. “Let’s go,” said M, “We don’t need to listen to any of their bullshit.” Legally, you don’t have to listen or speak to cops unless they’ve told you that you’re being detained and read your rights, and once detained you only have to give them your name, address and date of birth.

Speaking to cops voluntarily can very occasionally work as a strategy; reportedly when it was employed at Ihumātao, a few Māori officers wound up quitting the job. Extinction Rebellion members often try to debate cops into supporting climate justice, since ultimately it’s in the best interests of everyone on this planet, but in the process have often alienated minoritieswith greater understanding and experiences of police violence. Besides, to paraphrase Upton Sinclair, it’s very difficult to get a cop to understand something when their salary and power are reliant on them not understanding it. For the most part, speaking to cops simply gives them extra information to target activists.

The cop’s unfinished sentence meant what it almost always does. You have a right to protest, but only if it doesn’t affect anything important. After that point, the police, the courts, and private security will crack down. The liberal belief that a ‘good’ state will stop climate change ignores that states are defined by geo-political control of a specific landmass, taken and maintained by force, and usually the exploitation of that landmass’ natural resources. It also misunderstands the relationship between the state and private industry. Christian socialist David Bentley Hart wrote that the two entities are deeply intertwined: “Global capital depends upon the state’s power, its diplomatic access to other nations and markets, the trade treaties it negotiates, and (if needed) its judicious deployments of terror. States depend upon capital for revenues, material goods, and political patronage.” The ‘deployments of terror’ here involves sending state police to violently defend Fonterra.

While we waited for our arrested friends for an hour or so in the cold, R chalked on the sidewalk next to the police station. A few cops harassed us, with one saying that chalking on the building would count as willful damage and a ‘temporary reduction in the building’s valuation’ — as if they were planning to sell it before the time it would take to remove chalk. “See, this is why you’re bad at your job,” said R, trained as a lawyer, “because you don’t know what willful damage is.” Police in New Zealand only train for four months, while lawyers train for upwards of four years; much of the time, police literally do not know what the law is. They’re often just throwing intimidating statements at you to see what sticks.

When you do direct action, it’s often shocking, if not always surprising, just how much the state, corporations and the police overreact. The worst that the corporates had to deal with on Friday was a little bit of litter in their offices, easy enough to clean up. Most people wouldn’t beat someone up for this, but many are content to get the police to do it for them. One of our activists was charged with being a criminal nuisance and endangering public safety. It should be obvious that their actions don’t compare to the massive environmental damage, animal cruelty and worker exploitation carried out every day by the oil, coal, meat and dairy industries in this country.

It should also be obvious that our actions did not endanger public safety in the way the anti-lockdown rallies did. The sixth Labour Government has been oddly passive in response to a huge group of aggressive people threatening to lynch the Prime Minister. In contrast, when Māori and leftist activists even faintly talked about rebellion in the 2000s, the fifth Labour Government spied on them for two years, raided their houses and threw them in jail. However, gesturing at these hypocrisies still falsely presumes that they come from a malfunction in the system that can be fixed. As many radicals say, the system isn’t broken, it was designed this way.

The New Zealand Police seem to believe in the ‘thin blue line’, judging by their use of its image on social media. This worldview believes police are the only thing standing between today’s society and what they see as chaos. As this essay by a former US cop describes, police training inculcates officers to believe that everyone else is either a dangerous wolf or a mindless sheep, and that they can only trust their colleagues. It partially explains how on edge the police were, why they sent so many officers to intimidate a small and peaceful group of us.

Of course, police are also known to enjoy the violence they dole out; the histories of New Zealand Police leveraging their power to commit sexual assault shows that clearly enough. If police brutality is supposedly an excessive part of doing their job, what does this imply about the job’s baseline purpose? New Zealanders like to argue that our cops aren’t as bad as the US, or point to the few good apples in the rotten barrel of policing. However, the numerous cases of New Zealand Police violence highlighted above show these are extremely low bars.

Many progressives don’t do direct action because they think it’s unseemly, and believe that strong arguments will eventually get through to the government and climate polluters. However, many of us also refrain from direct action because dealing with police, the courts and prison is fucking scary. Although I was expecting the police to get violent, it was still upsetting, and I cried and cried once I got home.

However, once direct action builds up enough power, it can be immensely liberating. Andreas Malm’s book How To Blow Up A Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire makes a compelling case for the climate movement to escalate their tactics to property destruction and sabotage. Direct action managed to halt the Keystone XL pipeline in the US, a major win for climate justice. Part of our actions on Friday were to get people used to the idea of taking action themselves. Climate denialism and fatalism are two sides of the same coin, from a belief that regular people can’t — or shouldn’t — do anything out of the ordinary to change things.

If we are truly serious about how climate change is urgent and business as usual can’t continue unchecked, we need to broaden the strategies and tactics of climate activism. A lot of direct action for climate has already been happening in New Zealand, although it doesn’t get much media airtime. Climate justice ties in directly with anti-colonial struggles to protect Māori land, such as the stands taken at Ihumātao, Pūtiki, Marukaikuru and more. Although many anti-lockdown picketers flew the tino rangatiratanga and United Tribes flags, they seem fairly disconnected from these struggles.

The anti-lockdown people and the police have much in common (including resistance to getting vaccinated). No matter how much the former talk about resisting tyranny, they are wholesale parroting US-based propagandaand NZ corporations’ demands to end lockdown, as endorsed by mainstream media outlets like the New Zealand Herald. The white supremacists in their ranks are reflected in the police force, as statistics of police violence against Māori and other people of colour show. Neither group will meaningfully oppose the other, both are a threat to people’s safety — and ultimately, both have a defeatist view of the world. Standing up to them directly is terrifying, but may become our only option.

Content warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of police violence.

Yesterday, people watched aghast as thousands of anti-lockdown protesters converged on Parliament. In the lead-up to the protest, people were posting threats of violence on Telegram under their real names, and several placards carried similar threats; at least one protester was carrying a noose. Unlike other anti-lockdown rallies, this one had a somewhat substantial police presence, but the police mostly stood by, making no arrests. A tepid police statement read that the protesters were peaceful, but that their decision to break Level 2 restrictions was ‘disappointing’.

What fewer people know is that last week, the police sent 6+ police cars to coerce, brutalise and arrest people from a group of 25 or so climate activists in Wellington. Our protest was actually peaceful — not at death threat to be seen — but took the form of direct action, meaning that we confront people in power directly rather than appealing to the authorities to fix things. This work is crucial for climate action, as it’s abundantly clear that governments are unwilling to legislate against climate pollution in an effective or timely way.

Direct actions usually (though not always) involve a much smaller group of people than the big rallies. They are often more time-consuming, require greater planning, and carry higher risks of arrests and police violence. On Friday the 5th of November, Parihaka Day, climate activists around the country attempted to disrupt climate polluter businesses during their working hours. In Taranaki, activists chained themselves to the gates of a Fonterra factory and briefly disrupted their production chain. In Wellington, we paid visits to the offices of Fonterra, Todd Energy, Bathurst Resources, and the New Zealand stock exchange.

All the places we visited had locked off the office floors, so we could only make it into the lobbies. At the Fonterra headquarters, we dropped a pile of cow manure on the tiled floor, symbolically asking them to take their shit back. By the time we got to our next location, police were on the scene blocking off our access to the lifts and pushing us around. As we walked down the road, the police ran up behind us and tackled an activist to the ground. They pinned back the activist’s arms (let’s call them T), kneeled on their back and severely bruised their wrists. T yelled in pain as we filmed the officers and tried to de-escalate the situation. “T, breathe, breathe, look at me,” said M, keeping eye contact with T through the legs of the police. The officers told us to stand back so they could do their work, pushing a couple of young women backwards. T screamed again as the police slammed them into the ground. “Stop resisting!” shouted one of the officers.

As they put T in the back of a car and we walked on, I felt sick with anxiety. For various reasons, I wasn’t willing to get arrested, which made the situation almost more frightening for me because I did not know how to emotionally prepare for what might happen. I had not technically done anything wrong, but police are unpredictable and can be violent while only rarely receiving consequences. The New Zealand Police did it at the Weapons Expos, they’re doing it on Waihekeand they do it to minorities for simply walking around.

After we left our last location, the police followed us and arrested one of us. As they put cuffs on her, another activist tried to hold on to her bag, so they arrested her as well for ‘obstruction’. “Now, you have a right to protest — ” began one of the cops. “Let’s go,” said M, “We don’t need to listen to any of their bullshit.” Legally, you don’t have to listen or speak to cops unless they’ve told you that you’re being detained and read your rights, and once detained you only have to give them your name, address and date of birth.

Speaking to cops voluntarily can very occasionally work as a strategy; reportedly when it was employed at Ihumātao, a few Māori officers wound up quitting the job. Extinction Rebellion members often try to debate cops into supporting climate justice, since ultimately it’s in the best interests of everyone on this planet, but in the process have often alienated minoritieswith greater understanding and experiences of police violence. Besides, to paraphrase Upton Sinclair, it’s very difficult to get a cop to understand something when their salary and power are reliant on them not understanding it. For the most part, speaking to cops simply gives them extra information to target activists.

The cop’s unfinished sentence meant what it almost always does. You have a right to protest, but only if it doesn’t affect anything important. After that point, the police, the courts, and private security will crack down. The liberal belief that a ‘good’ state will stop climate change ignores that states are defined by geo-political control of a specific landmass, taken and maintained by force, and usually the exploitation of that landmass’ natural resources. It also misunderstands the relationship between the state and private industry. Christian socialist David Bentley Hart wrote that the two entities are deeply intertwined: “Global capital depends upon the state’s power, its diplomatic access to other nations and markets, the trade treaties it negotiates, and (if needed) its judicious deployments of terror. States depend upon capital for revenues, material goods, and political patronage.” The ‘deployments of terror’ here involves sending state police to violently defend Fonterra.

While we waited for our arrested friends for an hour or so in the cold, R chalked on the sidewalk next to the police station. A few cops harassed us, with one saying that chalking on the building would count as willful damage and a ‘temporary reduction in the building’s valuation’ — as if they were planning to sell it before the time it would take to remove chalk. “See, this is why you’re bad at your job,” said R, trained as a lawyer, “because you don’t know what willful damage is.” Police in New Zealand only train for four months, while lawyers train for upwards of four years; much of the time, police literally do not know what the law is. They’re often just throwing intimidating statements at you to see what sticks.

When you do direct action, it’s often shocking, if not always surprising, just how much the state, corporations and the police overreact. The worst that the corporates had to deal with on Friday was a little bit of litter in their offices, easy enough to clean up. Most people wouldn’t beat someone up for this, but many are content to get the police to do it for them. One of our activists was charged with being a criminal nuisance and endangering public safety. It should be obvious that their actions don’t compare to the massive environmental damage, animal cruelty and worker exploitation carried out every day by the oil, coal, meat and dairy industries in this country.

It should also be obvious that our actions did not endanger public safety in the way the anti-lockdown rallies did. The sixth Labour Government has been oddly passive in response to a huge group of aggressive people threatening to lynch the Prime Minister. In contrast, when Māori and leftist activists even faintly talked about rebellion in the 2000s, the fifth Labour Government spied on them for two years, raided their houses and threw them in jail. However, gesturing at these hypocrisies still falsely presumes that they come from a malfunction in the system that can be fixed. As many radicals say, the system isn’t broken, it was designed this way.

The New Zealand Police seem to believe in the ‘thin blue line’, judging by their use of its image on social media. This worldview believes police are the only thing standing between today’s society and what they see as chaos. As this essay by a former US cop describes, police training inculcates officers to believe that everyone else is either a dangerous wolf or a mindless sheep, and that they can only trust their colleagues. It partially explains how on edge the police were, why they sent so many officers to intimidate a small and peaceful group of us.

Of course, police are also known to enjoy the violence they dole out; the histories of New Zealand Police leveraging their power to commit sexual assault shows that clearly enough. If police brutality is supposedly an excessive part of doing their job, what does this imply about the job’s baseline purpose? New Zealanders like to argue that our cops aren’t as bad as the US, or point to the few good apples in the rotten barrel of policing. However, the numerous cases of New Zealand Police violence highlighted above show these are extremely low bars.

Many progressives don’t do direct action because they think it’s unseemly, and believe that strong arguments will eventually get through to the government and climate polluters. However, many of us also refrain from direct action because dealing with police, the courts and prison is fucking scary. Although I was expecting the police to get violent, it was still upsetting, and I cried and cried once I got home.

However, once direct action builds up enough power, it can be immensely liberating. Andreas Malm’s book How To Blow Up A Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire makes a compelling case for the climate movement to escalate their tactics to property destruction and sabotage. Direct action managed to halt the Keystone XL pipeline in the US, a major win for climate justice. Part of our actions on Friday were to get people used to the idea of taking action themselves. Climate denialism and fatalism are two sides of the same coin, from a belief that regular people can’t — or shouldn’t — do anything out of the ordinary to change things.

If we are truly serious about how climate change is urgent and business as usual can’t continue unchecked, we need to broaden the strategies and tactics of climate activism. A lot of direct action for climate has already been happening in New Zealand, although it doesn’t get much media airtime. Climate justice ties in directly with anti-colonial struggles to protect Māori land, such as the stands taken at Ihumātao, Pūtiki, Marukaikuru and more. Although many anti-lockdown picketers flew the tino rangatiratanga and United Tribes flags, they seem fairly disconnected from these struggles.

The anti-lockdown people and the police have much in common (including resistance to getting vaccinated). No matter how much the former talk about resisting tyranny, they are wholesale parroting US-based propagandaand NZ corporations’ demands to end lockdown, as endorsed by mainstream media outlets like the New Zealand Herald. The white supremacists in their ranks are reflected in the police force, as statistics of police violence against Māori and other people of colour show. Neither group will meaningfully oppose the other, both are a threat to people’s safety — and ultimately, both have a defeatist view of the world. Standing up to them directly is terrifying, but may become our only option.

Ari Wilson is a New Zealand-based writer and activist. Follow them on Twitter @hydratedthreat

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Rise Up for Climate Justice

Striking red and black image with hand holding a fern. Text reads 'Rise up for climate justice. Direct action interrupting business as usual. 9 am Friday, November 5, Loaves and Fishes, Pōneke Wellington.'
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Peace Action Plan Climate Action

Peace Action Wellington is holding an info evening on Thursday, 21 October from 6-9pm at the Newtown Community Centre to discuss and plan a climate justice action to coincide with the international climate negotiations happening in Scotland, COP 26.

“The draft Emissions Reduction Plan that was released last week is totally inadequate so we will shut down the climate polluters ourselves.” said Valerie Morse, member of Peace Action Wellington.

Peace Action Wellington is planning a non-violent direct action for 5 and 6 November. The 5th of November is the day colonial troops invaded Parihaka as part of the war for land. A war which has never ended and links directly to white supremacy, extractivism and now climate change. The 6th of November is a Global Day of Action for climate justice.

“The government continues to grant fossil fuel exploration permits and excuse industrial dairy from emissions targets. We have lost faith that they act in the interest of ordinary people and the generations of New Zealanders to come. It is up to us to shut down these corporate polluters now, before the window of opportunity is closed forever,” said Valerie Morse, member of Peace Action Wellington.

“We still have time. This is a crisis. We can choose to stop destroying the earth now, or we can continue to live in denial by continuing business – and life – as it has been. We’ve got real solutions to address climate change right now, but we cannot allow polluters more time to clean up their act. They’ve had decades to change; but are instead profiting from the climate crisis. It is obscene and inexcusable. We need to prioritise taking care of people and the environment over business profits.”

“Many people live in fear of the realities of climate change. Our future is something we make together, it isn’t predetermined. We want an abundant, regenerative, compassionate and equitable society and we can have it, but we have to start making changes today.

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Australian nuclear submarines threaten South Pacific 

The decision by the Australian government to acquire nuclear-powered submarines is irresponsible and dangerous for the whole South Pacific region.

Adding more weapons to the mix of ongoing hostilities between Australia and China is more likely to lead to war in this region. Because of their longer range, nuclear-powered submarines are for offensive warfare, not self-defence. With this acquisition, they are admitting to seeking a fight with China.

The newly cemented alliance between the US, UK and Australia, and Australia’s massive buying of weapons is deeply troubling for the region. The arms race in the South Pacific is already at a fevered pace even before this announcement. We can expect that the Chinese will respond in kind by further ratcheting up their own arms proliferation.

The issue with nuclear-powered submarines isn’t just about their offensive war-making capability. The very production of them is an ecological catastrophe: devastating uranium mining and onboard nuclear reactors that produce radioactive waste are just two of the issues. That doesn’t address their eventual decommissioning, and the toxic remains.

As importantly, there are major safety and security issues with any nuclear material: any damage, failure or leak of material would be a catastrophe for human health and would leak radioactive material all throughout the South Pacific.

The US, UK and Australia have just extracted themselves from a disastrous 20-year-long war in Afghanistan with no real reflection on what they did there, and instead are launching themselves onto a path to another military confrontation. The US and UK appear to be incapable of adjusting their worldview to one in which they aren’t at the centre. That world is gone; their leadership, such that it ever existed, and claims to uphold freedom and democracy, died with their illegal invasion of Iraq and the massacre of millions of civilians.

New Zealanders are rightly proud of our nuclear-free stance. This decision by Australia, along with a number of other high profile issues between New Zealand and Australia, must prompt a serious strategic rethink of New Zealand’s own defence and foreign policy.

We are obviously deeply relieved that the New Zealand government has not signed up to this new alliance. We have choices to make: we can continue on the path of US-led global wars and empire building, or we can choose to chart an ethical foreign policy based upon the interconnection of all peoples on the planet and the necessity of protecting our life-giving ecological systems.

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No Guantanamo in New Zealand

“The Lynnmall terrorist attack was a terrible and utterly unnecessary tragedy, and more policing and surveillance is not the way to solve it. Education, rehabilitation, mental health support and social inclusion are the rational ways to deal with radicalised people,” says Valerie Morse of Peace Action Wellington.

“Predictably, conservatives are advocating for extreme policing including the creation of a Guantanamo Bay-like situation where people are imprisoned indefinitely, and stripping people of citizenship. This is the response of authoritarians, not free peoples.” 

“Their only answer to such events is more, more, more: more police, more prisons and more spies. The problem is that these responses don’t work. The Lynnmall situation is case in point: a programme of rehabilitation was ordered by the court for this person, but because the police continued to prosecute him and hold him in prison, this programme never eventuated.”

“That isn’t to say that rehabilitation and education always work. The issue is that neither does expanding terrorism laws. If we want total security then we give up the very freedoms that make New Zealand a free democracy. We can’t just keep making the scope of laws broader and broader. ”

“The proposed expansion of the Terrorism Suppression Act before the House goes too far in criminalising ‘thought crime’. At the same time, we have seen no effort by the New Zealand government to appropriately fund and resource efforts at deradicalisation, let alone appropriately fund mental health and refugee resettlement services.”

“If we boil it down, reactionaries just want to ‘lock ‘em up’ or ‘throw them out’. But unless we are prepared to keep people in prison forever – or deport them to create problems elsewhere like Australia does –  then we need to be smarter about how we deal with these issues.”

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