Good on victims for speaking out

02:14, May 09 2011

It's a scene that is all too common on New Zealand streets: two people quietly minding their business are taunted by aggro drunks spoiling for a fight. They try to ignore the provocation, eventually respond, and are punched for their troubles. Wrong place, wrong time? No: just wrong, full stop.

An incident in Bridge St, Nelson, a fortnight ago – but only fleshed out when the Thai victims' story was aired in the Mail on Friday – will have been all too familiar to those up with nocturnal goings-on in the Nelson central business district. More than enough has been written about the dangers awaiting the unsuspecting who find themselves in the city at night – and, in particular, in the main pub and nightspot area. However, the racist nature of this attack adds a nasty element to an already unacceptable incident.

The Collins Shorter Dictionary defines racism as, 1. "belief in innate superiority of particular race"; and 2. "antagonism towards members of a different race based on this belief". It is, then, a trait that is above all the refuge of the most stupid, and any right-minded person should do what they can to oppose it.

Unfortunately, it is also – like some nasty, invasive weed – stubbornly rooted within New Zealand, and not just among ignorant young thugs.

Nelson Multicultural Council co-ordinator Evey McAuliffe is right to call for zero tolerance for racism in Nelson. This has been official police policy and embraced with enthusiasm within the Tasman district for several years, but the same disdain needs to be embraced by the wider community. As part of the pushback, the council has set up the Speak Out Nelson Tasman initiative.

Several ways in which incidents of racism in our community can be reported, in confidence if necessary, are offered. While it might seem to be primarily aimed at the victims of such abuse, those who witness unsavoury and race-based incidents would do their community a favour by filing a report too. This might seem to go against the "anti-narc" thinking that remains prevalent among many New Zealanders. However, just as reporting suspected domestic abuse might well prevent serious injury or the death of a child, so too is exposing the extent and nature of racism in this country the best way of countering it.

Of course, merely filing a report following an incident is all very well, but we share a responsibility to do what we can to prevent abuse as it happens, too. The actions of a group of Tongan men who witnessed the attack and helped protect the two Thai women involved are to be applauded. As it was, the primary victim had to be treated in hospital for a damaged eye. Our emergency department has better things to do than devote precious resources to caring for the prey of drunken, stupid, hoodlums – of either gender.

That the attackers in this instance were European women in their 20s does not lessen the offence in the least. Being drunk is no excuse either. Much thought has gone into how Nelson will present itself to the world during the Rugby World Cup. A priority – hopefully with a permanent legacy – would be to pour even greater resources into cleaning up the streets after dark. It is unfortunate a strong voice against violence – and racism – in this region, the Te Rito network, is about to be silenced by a government with different priorities than this community's.

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The Nelson Mail