Gangs and violence
In 2018, 36% of all prisoners had gang connections and 70% of Māori prisoners had gang connections. The majority of gang members in prison were there for drugs, violence or sexual violation. Often the most publicly visible form of violence from gang members is gang clashes, which started to become common during the 1970s. In South Auckland, for example, the Storm Troopers fought frequent battles with other gangs and in June 1971 in central Auckland there was a huge brawl between the Hell’s Angels, Highway 61, the Polynesian Panthers and the Mongrel Mob. Ten years later Black Power and the Mongrel Mob brawled publicly at a family day in Cathedral Square, Christchurch, which was attended by 1,000 people.
In 1973 an escalating feud between the Epitaph Riders and the Devil’s Henchmen of Christchurch led to the fatal shooting of one Henchman. Two years later a member of Highway 61 was shot and killed in Auckland by the Hell’s Angels. In 1979 a major riot between the Storm Troopers and Black Power in the Northland town of Moerewa led to several policemen being seriously injured and a gang member being shot in the leg by police.
From the late 1980s onward, however, open inter-gang conflict receded as a result of police pressure, a maturing leadership, and a shift in gang focus towards money-making and organised drug trafficking.
In Mongrel Mob and Black Power initiation ceremonies ‘prospects’ must prove themselves in tests ranging from drinking urine from a gumboot, to committing a specific crime, being bashed by the gang, or serving jail time for a patched member’s crime. Cam Stokes, a former police officer, argues that prospects ‘must be prepared to engage in illegal activities to prove their loyalty to the gang and to eliminate the possibility that they are an undercover police officer.’1
In gang culture, women are usually seen as subordinate. Until the early 2000s, gang sex and gang rape of women (both referred to as ‘blocking’) was endemic to gang culture. One particularly infamous incident occurred in 1988 when a young woman was kidnapped and taken to a Mongrel Mob convention in Auckland, where she was raped by more than 15 men.
In recent years heavy prison sentences, drug dealing and rising awareness of women’s rights, have all contributed to a decline in the practice of gang rape nationwide. In many gangs, blocking has been banned altogether, although individual members are still imprisoned for rape from time to time.
High-profile gang killings
Gang killings attract strong media attention. This is more pronounced when innocent victims, rather than other gang members or associates themselves, are killed. In 1987 teenager Colleen Burrows was murdered for refusing to have sex with Mongrel Mob members. In 1996 police witness Christopher Crean was murdered at home to prevent him from testifying against Black Power members over their part in a violent brawl. A founding member of the Fourth Reich was responsible for killing James John (Janis) Bamborough in 1999 for being homosexual, and Korean backpacker Jae Hyeon Kim in 2003 for being Asian. In 2007, in a Mongrel Mob drive-by shooting at a Black Power member’s house, two-year-old Jhia Te Tua was killed in Whanganui.
Mongrel Mob ditty
Born in a brothel
Raised in a jail
Proud to be a Mongrel
Sieg fucking Heil!
Until the early 1980s organised criminal activity within gangs was low, with the exception of odd outbreaks of turf and patch wars. However some gang members had commenced small-scale drug dealing, and within a decade had begun developing potentially lucrative international connections. Initially marijuana and some LSD were the primary drugs used and sold, but from the early 1980s a few motorcycle gangs were importing methamphetamine. At first the market was small but it grew exponentially during the 1990s.
In the early 2000s some gang members focused on quietly making money from drugs rather than expending energy in destructive and profile-raising patch wars. The sale of smokable methamphetamine (known as ‘P’ or ‘Pure’) has outstripped other activities as the primary illegal money-maker for criminal gangs. In 2008, 78% of identified clandestine laboratories manufacturing P were connected to organised criminal groups dominated by gang membership.
A number of gangs also run legitimate, tax-paying businesses such as nightclubs, massage parlours, fishing operations and retail outlets. Police believe that these are sometimes used to launder money made from illegal activities such as drug dealing.
Transnational gangs have a relatively small presence in New Zealand. By the late 1980s police had identified Asian triad-type gangs with involvement in drugs, prostitution, fraud, counterfeiting and extortion. The establishment of the 14K, Wo Group and Sun Yee On (from Hong Kong) and Ah Kong (from Malaysia) in New Zealand date from this period. A more recent arrival is the Big Circle Gang from China. Their members have been associated with intimidation, extortion, gambling, counterfeiting, kidnapping, pāua smuggling, drugs and violence. Today, however, most Asian crime in New Zealand involves small unaffiliated syndicates, who often have family connections. There is also evidence of syndicates from West Africa, Iran, Italy, Romania and Pakistan. Since the early 1990s there has been identified instances of organised transnational crime involvement with New Zealand gangs and local criminal figures.