Kura lays formal complaint over armed police response to toy gun

By Stuff reporter

A member of the public called Christchurch police after seeing a Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o te Whānau Tahi student with a toy pop gun complete with flashing lights, a Secret Santa gift on the last day of school. (File photo)

By Jody O'Callaghan

A Christchurch kura kaupapa and whānau have laid a formal complaint with police and its independent watchdog after officers aimed rifles and Tasers at a carful of 13- to 16-year-olds over a toy gun.

A member of the public at nearby Pioneer Pools saw a 12-year-old Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Whānau Tahi student with a small toy pop gun with flashing lights – a class Secret Santa gift on the last day of kura on December 9 – which kick-started a chain of events that left the tamariki traumatised.

The kura community, unhappy with how police handled their concerns, have now laid a complaint with police and the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) over police actions on the day and the policies and practice that led to it.

Police Canterbury metro area commander Superintendent Lane Todd said on Wednesday they were aware of the complaint and that IPCA was already investigating their response.

Police “remain committed to meeting with the kura board, staff, students and whānau of the tamariki involved, as we have been since this incident occurred”, but could not comment further during the investigation.

In an open letter to police that accompanied the complaint, kura whānau describe officers making light of the incident and saying the children “will have a story to tell”.

“The story they have to tell is of racism, trauma, persecution and an abuse of Police powers,” the letter says.

They have asked for an acknowledgement of systemic racism and its “shortcomings in the incident for our tamariki, our whānau and our kura”.

The seven children were minors, boys and girls, sitting in uniform in a staff member’s car, waiting for their siblings, when they were “set upon and terrorised by police officers from six or seven police cars who had assault rifles, handguns, tasers and dogs” about 2.30pm, the letter says.

Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Whanau Tahi and whānau have laid a complaint with police and the Independent Police Conduct Authority. Photo / Alden Williams Stuff

The students were ordered from the car and made to kneel on the ground with their hands in the air while being shouted at. The youngest child was 13.

“Following the incident, the Police failed to make contact with us as parents, to let us know what had happened to our children that day with any concern for their health and wellbeing following this trauma, or to offer victim support.”

It demonstrated an overreach of police powers over a false report of a 20-year-old youth with a firearm, it says.

“Despite not committing any crime, our children were subjected to gross overuse of force by the Police, who also failed to address or rectify the situation once ascertaining they were innocent.”

Their children were “racially profiled and portrayed as a threat which triggered a dangerous sequence of events that could have easily ended in tragedy”.

“Would this have occurred if our children were white or went to a private school? Would the Police follow-up have been different?”

The whānau would be “educating our rangatahi, by necessity, on their rights and racism in its many forms”.

They asked that police contact whānau whenever a weapon was drawn on minors, have support in place, and establish a rangatahi advisory group to provide guidance on respectful relationships, policies and procedures.

Kura co-chairperson Jeanine Tamati-Elliffe said the board of the kura supported its whānau in the complaint about the police’s severe mistreatment of several of its students which caused a ripple effect of “mamae [pain] for the tamariki and their whānau”.

The board and kura management were “deeply concerned” and believed that the police were “inappropriately excessive” in the handling of the toy gun incident and failed to ensure a duty of care to protect the children and staff of the kura.

“This was not the case on the day when armed officers surrounded innocent school children and pointed loaded weapons at them.”

The kura questioned why the police’s risk assessment, and resulting response, did not involve notifying the kura immediately, or at any point, of any perceived armed threat.

“Had the police called to inform the kura as part of that response, then we could have minimised the trauma experienced by those students and staff present, or prevented the whole incident entirely.”

There was also no follow-up with the children or their whānau after the incident and the kura had been left to organise ongoing support and counselling for those children involved.

Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Whānau Tahi parent Eruera Tarena spoke out about the police response at the time of the incident.

Parent Eruera Tarena wrote an opinion piece to Stuff at the time, concerned about the growing “hype” created over recent political debates about ramraids and youth crime.

Extreme police force used on tamariki should not be normalised, he said, so the whānau decided to take action.

“That was the most dangerous incident our children have ever been involved in. But to have it fobbed off as an everyday occurrence is just not good enough.

“We have a history where young, brown men in particular are demonised.

“We have the opportunity to break that cycle, but the police are going to have to do that work.”

- Stuff