Māori lawyer and social commentator Moana Jackson says arming police will damage the work of trying to improve Police relations with Māori.
Jackson says he has worked with prisoner advocate Emilie Rākete on the Police Firearms claim and believes Māori will be targeted if Police are armed.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. The evidence shows clearly that over the years our people are disproportionately targeted in issues like this, the number of Māori who have been shot by Police over the years.”
Last month Police finished a six-month trial of Police Armed Response Teams (ARTs). The trial involved new customised vehicles carrying teams of trained Armed Offenders Squad officers ready to respond to high-risk incidents.
The trial caused concern because it was rolled out in highly-Māori populated communities including Counties-Manukau and Waikato.
Jackson says the issue is not just the recently trialled response groups but instead the broader issue of whether the police should be permanently armed.
“If they have easier access to arms, how is that regulated, and my concern is always really the evidence shows because our people have been most commonly targeted in issues like this, that our people will be targeted again and I’m not reassured by any police statements to the contrary.”
Jackson says it would be dangerous to ignore history and police have a history of targeting Māori as the enforcement arm of the state.
“It was the armed constabulary, for example, which invaded Parihaka. It was the armed constabulary, for example, which invaded Maungapōhatu, and more recently, we’ve seen other high profile incidents, he says.
“There is just a historical propensity for Māori to be the targets and for Māori to be the ones for official sources to think should be controlled often through the use of firearms, and that simply was unacceptable in the 19th century and it's unacceptable now.”
Police have carried out bias training to mitigate the risk to Māori. Jackson says bais training is good in that it addresses an individual person's unconscious bias but it doesn’t address the systemic issues.
“It doesn’t address the wider issues about why Māori, for example, are arrested at a far greater rate than anyone else, why Māori are less likely, for example, to get home detention for comparable offences than anyone else, why there are more Māori in prison, for example, those are not the result of an individual’s bigotry or something," he says.
“They are systemic issues not just with the police but within a colonising society and trying to mitigate the admitted threat towards Māori is something that these armed response groups, by having some sort of cultural sensitivity training or encouraging them to learn a waiata, is not going to solve those issues.”
The ARTs trial ended on 26 April 2020 and a review is being undertaken.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says the Evidence-Based Policing Centre will undertake the evaluation. This will include data collected during the trial, public perceptions data, and the views of police teams involved, as well as other relevant interested parties.
"We know that some communities have had some concerns about the ARTs and how they were being deployed. Now the trial is over, an evaluation will be done and the views of the community taken into account as part of that.”
The results are expected to be released at the end of June.