Call for police to review alleged racial attack on Ngahina Hohaia

updated By Jessica Tyson
Ngahina Hohaia was allegedly attacked on Òwairaka maunga in June - Photo / Natalie Robertson

AUT’s School of Law Associate Professor Khylee Quince and University of Auckland Associate Professor Mera Lee-Penehira are requesting the Solicitor General review the decision not to prosecute the alleged racial attack on Ngahina Hohaia.

After the alleged attack on June 8, Hohaia laid a complaint with the police. Within 48 hours of her making a statement, police advised they would not press assault charges, claiming that the alleged perpetrator had a plausible explanation for the assault that could have been used as a defence in court.

Professor Quince says she doesn’t believe the police have considered fully the views or position of Māori in considering the public interest in assessing the case.

“In addition to considering the evidence available, decisions to proceed with criminal charges require the police to consider whether charges are in the public interest," she says.  

“We urge the police to reconsider their decision not to prosecute this assault. We ask that the police release the CCTV footage of the incident so that the public can see the evidence for themselves.”

The alleged assault

On June 8, Hohaia said she was subject to racial abuse and a physical assault directed at her as a Māori woman wearing moko kauae, on Ōwairaka mountain. The person allegedly called Hohaia a “black b****” and “one of those disgraceful idiots with mow-kows (sic) on their faces” after Hohaia told the woman to keep hold of her dog.

Hohaia made a complaint to the police that afternoon and gave a formal statement at Avondale Police station the following day. The initial interview with the police was conducted by a police officer who Hohaia says demonstrated an inability and unwillingness to address or understand Māori cultural issues.

Deputy Commissioner Wallace Haumaha was then contacted to oversee the case, and Auckland iwi liaison officers were called in to assist. Within 48 hours of that statement being filed, police said they would not press assault charges, claiming that the alleged perpetrator had a plausible explanation for the assault that could have been used as a defence in court.

Professor Quince was told that police accepted the perpetrator's explanation of self-defence.

"Her explanation is that she thought that Ngahina was aggressive towards her. [Ngahina] was holding her cell phone videoing this woman to get the number plate of her car because [Ngahina] had been subject to that racial abuse, but the perpetrator said, ‘I thought that woman was coming for me’."

West Auckland Area Commander Inspector Grant Tetzlaff today told Te Ao that police have conducted extensive enquiries into the matter.

"Enquiries completed included speaking with witnesses in the area and examining CCTV footage. Both parties have also provided their accounts of what occurred to Police," Tetzlaff said in a statement.

Police will consider all available evidence against the Solicitor General’s Prosecution Guidelines before making a decision on how to proceed, says Tetzlaff.

Hundreds stood in solidarity against racism at Owairaka following the alleged attack / Video source: Nathaniel Howe

Leaders upset with the decision

Leaders within the wider Māori community have said the decision to not prosecute the alleged perpetrator was racist.

Professor Leonie Pihama, of Te Ātiawa, Waikato and Ngā Māhanga a Tairi: “The attack on Ngahina by a Pākehā woman and the demeaning of moko kauae in such a way is indicative of the continued colonial racism that exists in this country that reinforces white privilege and dominance on Māori land."

Precious Clark of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei was also disappointed police decided not to press charges.

“It leaves me with little confidence in their commitment to address issues of racism within our society, and also within the force itself."

The co-leader of the Green Party, Marama Davidson, says since November 2019, the New Zealand Police renewed its commitment to build mutual trust and confidence with iwi Māori partners and support their aspirations in its refreshed Māori strategy Te Huringa o Te Tai.

“There is an opportunity in the case of the attack on Ngahina Hohaia to uphold that commitment. This case is throwing a high-profile torch on how the police deal with harmful racism in our communities, and whether they have the capacity to understand the nature of such attacks on Māori. I would urge the police to reflect on the long-term community trust they have vowed to rebuild.”

Alleged attack against Māori artist exposes racism / Te Ao Tapatahi - June 12

Moko kauae

Moko kanohi, including moko kauae are taonga gifted by tūpuna as tangata whenua, to carry whakapapa visually in the world. It is the affirmation of the wearer's place within their whānau, hapū and iwi.

Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiarangi Associate Professor Mera Penehira says it is the right of Māori women to wear moko kauae without fear of racial abuse or attack.

“It’s crazy that in preparing women to wear the markings of our ancestors, managing racism is a key component of their preparation,” Penehira says.