First arrest over Wanganui patch ban bylaw

BRIEF PROTEST: Black Power members gathered in Wanganui's Majestic Square to protest the gang patch bylaw but did not stay long.
BRIEF PROTEST: Black Power members gathered in Wanganui's Majestic Square to protest the gang patch bylaw but did not stay long.

A patch-free protest in Wanganui today is a positive sign the city's controversial new gang bylaw will be respected, Mayor Michael Laws says.

Wanganui District Council banned gang insignia from the city at its meeting yesterday, and the bylaw making it illegal to display it came into force at midnight.

However, it had been in effect for little more than 12 hours before being cited in the arrest of a speeding motorcyclist believed to have been wearing a Tribesman patch when stopped in the suburb of Gonville today.

Police said the man's jacket was confiscated and he would appear in court next week over the issue.

The bylaw, initiated to try and stomp out gang intimidation in the city, gives police powers to fine patch-wearers $2000 and take possession of the insignia.

There was no drama as about 300 people gathered in the central city at midday, including many police and onlookers, along with a minority of people wearing colours favoured by the Black Power and Mongrel Mob.

Mr Laws called the protest a "damp squib" dominated by "local students and eccentrics", and said the gang members who organised it were overshadowed.

"They now know the consequences and the police presence made sure of those consequences," he said of the absence of patches.

Besides a few angry comments heard muttered about Mr Laws, most of the obvious gang members were silent when questioned by media.

However, Black Power life member Denis O'Reilly said the bylaw was "absurd" and Mr Laws and the council had subverted the processes of Parliament in getting it enacted.

Mike Hills, a local with no gang affiliations, said it was an attack on the rights of all residents.

"It's an erosion of civil liberties and a cheap publicity stunt by our mayor, masquerading as his attempt to solve a tragic social dilemma," Mr Hills told NZPA.

He said there was no silver bullet to fix the social issues associated with gangs, but banning patches would only serve to drive a wedge further between the gang members and community.

"It's going to take a lot of hard work to solve the problem and a stroke of the pen is no solution," he said.

As was indicated by Mr O'Reilly, Mr Hills said he hoped those opposing the bylaw would now use lobbying, referendums and legal avenues to challenge the legislation.

He wore a patch at the protest which was a modified, Maori language version of a Black Power patch.

Local police Inspector Greg Hudson said police were aware of people wearing the patches but didn't consider them to come under current legislation.

Mr Laws today used his Radio Live talkback slot to talk up the bylaw and said it would help make the streets safe.

Gang members would no longer be able to advertise their allegiances and attract young and impressionable prospects a nd Wanganui was likely to become a "very uncomfortable place" for them to live, he said.

Mr Hills rubbished the claim, saying children were influenced by their own families and upbringings, "not the sight of a patch".

Police spokeswoman Kim Perks said police had endorsed the gang bylaw as there had been genuine concerns by the community about gang intimidation in Wanganui.

Police presence had been beefed up for the protest, but the turnout was much smaller than expected.