Tim Dower: Will Black Lives Matter protests change our notion of us?

Author
Tim Dower,
Publish Date
Mon, 15 Jun 2020, 9:55AM
The Black Lives Matter march heading to Parliament. Photo / Jason Walls

Tim Dower: Will Black Lives Matter protests change our notion of us?

Author
Tim Dower,
Publish Date
Mon, 15 Jun 2020, 9:55AM

We're living in dangerous times. People are understandably on edge after lockdown and with the economic uncertainty, we're all facing right now.

And in dangerous times, when people are testy - volatile even. We need to choose our words carefully, especially when we're a Minister of the Crown or come to that, a political leader of any kind, or a member of the media.

So can I just say this about the protests we've been seeing in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US. It's easy to get swept up in the emotion of a moment, and it's easy too, to play to a crowd.

Is that what Andrew Little was doing in Wellington yesterday when he told a crowd "we've got to change"?

And he said: "When well over half of the men in our prisons are Māori, when nearly two-thirds of women in our prisons are Māori, that tells you there is something wrong with the system”.

Now that's a bold and sweeping statement, and when it comes from the Justice Minister, it kind of carries the promise that things will change. And perhaps things should change.

But here's the thing. People don't end up in prison because the system is broken. People end up in prison because they broke the law.

And why do people break the law? Because they don't see another way. Because they don't see themselves as part of us.

We haven't got through this whole Covid crisis talking about them and us. It's been about us: we pulled together as a country, we co-operated as a nation of people.

I believe we all deserve to live our lives free from the fear of crime. To get there, we need to get right to the root of the problem.

So what is it we're doing wrong that pushes people away from the concept of us? And how do we fix that?