Saturday, February 6, 2016

Karl du Fresne: Masterton deaths bring out the excuse-makers

Driving down the main street of Masterton last Sunday morning, I noticed a cluster of traffic cones on the footpath. A few metres further on, a photographer was taking a picture of the street.
I didn’t give it another thought at the time. It was only later that I learned two 15-year-old boys in a stolen car had hit a pole and been killed while fleeing from police. A 14-year-old survivor has since been charged in connection with the crash.

The deaths touched off the usual debate about whether police should engage in such pursuits (which they say they abandoned in this case). This is an argument that will probably never be neatly resolved.

At one extreme, there are those who say police should never give chase. No young tearaway deserves to risk death merely because a broken tail light or loud exhaust has attracted police attention, or so the argument goes.

The short answer to that, of course, is that the risk is easily avoided. All the offender has to do is comply with the police instruction to stop.

That way, the worst that can happen is a court appearance and perhaps a fine or licence cancellation; possibly a jail term if there’s a list of previous offences. That’s surely better than dying.

At the other extreme, there are those who say that society is better off if lawbreakers kill themselves trying to flee.

This is the brutal view that got blogger Cameron Slater into trouble a couple of years ago when he wrote that a “feral” who was killed in car fleeing police on the West Coast did society a favour by dying. That statement was subsequently cited as moral justification for the hacking of his emails, which led in turn to the Nicky Hager “Dirty Politics” saga.

Slater overstated his case, as he often does. But while it may seem un-Christian to say that death in such circumstances is self-inflicted, it’s a view held by many reasonable and otherwise compassionate people.

To crash into a power pole while trying to evade the consequences of what is often a trivial offence isn’t quite “suicide by police”, but it’s getting close. The pursued party presumably doesn’t want to die, but evidently places such a low value on his or her life that it’s a risk worth taking.

But the debate over police pursuits goes further than that. If police were to adopt a policy of non-pursuit, the inevitable consequence is that lawbreakers would be given carte blanche to defy them.

What a great leap forward that would be for society. It would be the exact reverse of the highly effective “broken windows” style of policing, in which zero tolerance is shown for even minor offences.

As is often the case in situations like this, the Masterton deaths have brought forth excuse-makers who seek to shift responsibility for the tragedy.

Alan Maxwell, co-ordinator of Wairarapa Anglican Youth, was quoted as saying he was angry at community apathy and the teenagers’ “limited choices”. 

“The bottom line is they’re just bored and if we don’t give them things to so, they find stupid things to do and make stupid choices.

“At some point, as a community, we have to take responsibility, otherwise these kids are not going to be the only ones [to die] this year.”

No doubt Maxwell is a decent man who’s grieving for two boys he knew personally, and in whom he saw good qualities. But since when did being bored justify stealing someone’s car? And why do so many people minimise criminal behaviour by referring to it as making “stupid choices”?

Maxwell’s comments reminded me of the Catholic priest in the 1990s who, presumably temporarily unhinged by emotion, blamed the government for the deaths of several young Maori men in a Christchurch marae fire.

Yes, the deaths of the Featherston boys was a tragedy. There will be people who loved them and cared for them. They will be mourning.

I don’t know what circumstances led to two 15-year-olds being out in a stolen car at 2.15am. I do know, however, that one of the boys was named Pacer, which was the name of an Australian muscle-car of the 1970s, and that he had siblings named Chevy, Dodge and Corvette. Hmmm.

I also know that “the community” doesn’t make teenage boys steal a car or make a run for it when the police try to intercept them. For that, the responsibility must lie elsewhere.

Karl du Fresne blogs at First published in the Dominion Post. 


StevoC said...

Well said Karl, I agree whole heartedly. What a great country we would have if all you needed to do was speed away when the police try to stop you and you're off scott free. It turns my stomach when I hear people trying to defend these young hoons when they are out and about stealing cars and breaking into others properties, I have no sympathy for self inflicted wounds, and anyone that runs from police and kills another person should be done with murder. While it's a sad thing these young people died, they only have themselves to blame and going by the names of this family it's no surprise they're the way they are. The parents must be real proud of themselves!

Brian said...

I think Karl has summed it up rather well, especially so in the last paragraph with its emphasis right on the mark. Just what has happened to our society that such young children (I use the word reservedly) are out, stealing cars not converting them? Of course the full details of this case will be only known to those who attend to court case; we can only rely on Media hype and sensationalism.
If we are to have a society in which all have a respect for the law and abide by that law, then we need to take a very good look at ourselves and do the necessary comparison with the past. Oh don’t give me that old cliché about “Comparisons being odious” and the self righteous present day axiom (axiomatic!!) “Young People are different in today’s world”. If you want a word to sum up the problem what about “Discipline”, but of course any legal physical discipline is out, and the overrated counsellor is today’s cure all.
It is quite obvious that the family unit has broken down and there is an ever increasing section of today’s children that are merely a product of soulless delinquent unions; by couples whose sole object in life is gratification of their own desires. They themselves are un-disciplined, in a modern society which itself is has lost the right to discipline.
Both they and their children are products of a ultra liberal self interested laid back society, that has forgotten, or has never realised that our actions and way of life are our own responsibly. Excuses have become the norm, as of course we are all assailed by the amount of violence, not only from the Television nightly, but from the incidents in everyday life around us.
It is not a matter of trying to turn back the clock of time; it is a matter of self discipline and respect, and above all an adherence to the law, and of the administration of that law. Self indulgence is our greatest virus.

Dave said...

Once again because of the PC brigade insisting that we let anyone being pursued by Police to get away simply by pushing the foot to the floor and speeding away, we now have a whole new generation of young car thieves etc who know that by speeding away you get away with the crime and bugger the consequences if you kill or maim someone, including yourself in the process.
To solve this problem some are advocating that all police pursuits altogether be abandoned.
No wonder only one burglary in 5 is solved. The message is crime is a very worthwhile occupation, you only stand a 1 in 5 chance of being caught and if by chance the cops start following you just speed off in your stolen car and all is good till next time. Providing you don't wrap yourself around a tree or kill some innocent family in the process.
A new hard line approach including, active pursuits, tougher laws, long jail sentences, doing away with the stupid law of can't charge so called minors and arming our Police = zero tolerance. But it will not happen in our life time.

Peter said...

Nice piece there Karl.

While NZ Police have a bad name, they are not all ogres! If we ignore flagrant breaches of our road rules, the rules become meaningless. In so many cases the innocent public are put at risk. Allowing the youth to speed off endangers the public as does a police pursuit. The latter has a better outcome in that the offenders are (Usually) apprehended.

We now have several generations of families who are taught that the police are 'pigs'. They are encouraged by parents, siblings and peers to challenge the police. Yet they come running when they feel aggrieved!

More severe punishments and no tolerance or sympathy would smother this attitude. The attitude that 'the police can't do anything to me' is appalling. It is prevalent in our society. When these incidents result in death the police are condemned and the perpetrator is condoned. Family and community dredge up niceties, that the offender was 'misunderstood' or 'made bad choices'. Stop the nonsense. Portray the offender as we should. They are dangerous criminals It's too late to make excuses.

Zero tolerance, car crushing and stiff penalties are vital to earn police respect and remove these offensive offenders from our communities.