Sticks and stones…

Criminals and victims. They’re two sides of the same coin. Where you get one, you have the other. So close are the two entwined, though, that we often get them confused as the same side of the same coin.

That happened this week, in a long-form investigative piece on whether or not New Zealand’s justice system is racist. It talked of ten years worth of data being crunched, which had my inner nerd buzzing with excitement, but then re-heated the same statistics that get pulled out year after year without any serious analysis.

The burning after-taste of disappointment was strong. Those questions that I thought would finally find an answer remained single. More Maori are incarcerated than other ethnic groups. Ok, but do more Maori commit crimes than other ethnic groups? No answer. Higher conviction rates among Maori. Ok, but is that difference controlling for criminal records? No answer. The reason for such statistics? Colonisation. Ok, but what do we do now? No answer. Oh, except re-hash “the system”, and stop “over-policing” Maori.

That was when I got angry. Because that answer quite clearly assumes that Maori criminals are innocent of any real wrong-doing. It assumes they haven’t left behind them broken, hurt victims.

The all-too-often Maori victims.

Because criminals are also racist too, you see.  Overwhelmingly they choose Maori as their targets. Maori children, Maori women, Maori adults. If you’re Maori, you’re not just more likely to go to jail than any other ethnicity; you’re more likely to be the victim of crime too.

The statistics (courtesy of the Ministry of Justice, 2013), show that Maori are almost 10 per cent more likely that the average New Zealander to be the victim crime. Break crime down into its individual categories, like violence or burglaries and Maori lead each of those as victims too.

When you control for age and deprivation differences, there is still a “statistically significant” difference of 3 per cent overall. That indicates, says the Ministry, “there is something else that makes Maori more highly victimised”.

Tellingly, the figures also show that Maori are more likely that the average New Zealand to fear being the victim of crime but worry the same amount as everybody else about being harassed or intimidated because of their race.

So what about these victims? Do we stop over-policing Maori criminals so that and let more wife-beaters get away with it? Or do we start over-policing everyone because we care too much to see one more person have to wear the label “victim”? Do we “re-hash” the system to help tweak the figures on Maori crime, or do we look at the damage done in real life and ask what needs to be done to decrease the number of Maori victims?

Because if we insist on casting Maori criminals as the innocent victims of a racist system, then we take away the voice, the value and the validity of those they have harmed. We forget that someone else was hurt in the making of each court case. We turn a blind eye to the trail of devastated lives that can result from one person wronging another.

And if we insist on casting Maori criminals as the innocent victims in our national story on justice, then we claim Maori criminals deserve a voice, activists to promote their cause, and academics to crunch numbers on their behalf. And by default we claim that Maori victims don’t deserve these things.

And that would be the worst display of racism of all.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

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