Cowards who do and cowards who don't

ROSEMARY MCLEOD
Last updated 05:00 17/01/2013

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Rosemary McLeod

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I don't like having a them-and-us mentality; it leads to bigotry. 

I like it even less when I worry whether, put to the test, I'd be too scared to stand up to people who appal me.  

Ongoing attacks on police and firefighters - the latest in pretty little Kawhia - and the odd attack on an ambulance officer drive home that we're a divided society in more ways than financial.

Those people deserve to do their job in peace; what they do is useful and necessary. But some people  - I'll call them thems - don't see it that way. 

They regard police, fire and ambulance officers as instruments of the law who might obstruct their freedom to fight, maim, kill, drink-drive, bash babies, deal drugs and all the other joys of unstructured, aimless living.  

Anarchic people wish nobody any good, least of all their own families. 

How and why they get that way may be a fascinating area of academic study and I wish academics joy of it, but other people have to live among them, taking no chances that they'll behave like civilised people and simply trying not to attract their attention.

It's this that makes cowards of us. We cross the street to avoid them, overlook their neglected children, close our ears to the women getting bashed, ignore the fighting and vandalism that makes living near them miserable, and hope and pray that they won't pick on us next.

Featherston - scene of one recent homicide - is one place where I wouldn't want to live. No dark act comes as a surprise from that small, seemingly quaint colonial town, with a beaut war memorial but a dire recent history of murdered children.

An interesting detail about this latest killing is the local volunteers who are brave enough to carry out informal policing of the town, quietly keeping track of who goes where and when, in the absence of a cop on the beat. 

Thanks to them, some people allegedly involved in the lethal attack  on a local man  have been arrested. 

A group attack on one person would once have been considered cowardly and shameful. But that was a while back.

The theme has been echoed in pretty little Kawhia, where I've sat on holiday and looked out to sea, and browsed in the old museum. It looks like heaven on a fine summer day and you could idly fantasise about living there, but like so many outwardly quiet places inhabited by a minority of thems, Kawhia has another side to it.

A weekend attack on the town's lone policeman was another case of the many falling, in feral fashion, on the one. Nastily enough, the town's former sole policeman was also bashed there, while investigating the scene of a murder. The current policeman, Perry Griffin, was trying to arrest a wanted man.

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Again, the brave few came to the aid of the policeman, not the many, who stood and stared, some reportedly egging the attackers on. Volunteer firefighters, more than half of them women, came to the rescue, kept the attackers at bay, gave first aid and ensured the safety of holidaymakers until police backup arrived - from 40 minutes away.

Mr Griffin has said he'll go back to work in Kawhia. His predecessor didn't, and who could blame him?

Meanwhile, Martinborough's Peter Fisher, another volunteer firefighter, hopes to get back to work once his badly bashed face has healed, his family says. He stepped forward late last year to eject a gatecrasher from a teenager's party. The gatecrasher turned on him, bashing him so badly that Wellington's revered plastic surgeon, Swee Tan, said putting his face back together was like doing a jigsaw puzzle. Mr Fisher also has some paralysis from the assault.

Martinborough is another quaint colonial town where you might imagine enjoying a quiet life. But I doubt that fantasy is likely to be a reality anywhere in this country, any time soon.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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