Otara community fights back against gang violence

By Contributor

By Candice Luke, Te Rito journalism cadet

Heartfelt pleas to stop the violence and concerns in Ōtara are dominating a popular Facebook community group affected by the recent spate of gang shootings.

"People are over it," says group moderator Antoinette Tiatia.

"They're asking for consideration of the wider community who are innocent in all of this."

Southside WOKE has a membership of more than 11,000 residents and Ōtara ex-pats who share everything from lost dog posters, and where to get watercress, to a video of armed police surrounding a property.

The recent shootings have locals using the platform to call out the gangs involved to "stop destroying Ōtara".

One commenter said, "[sic] To you bigshots with guns ,ur taking our tamarikis future away,ur making it harder for thm for thr future.Wheres the love?It's time the community came together, enough is enough!"

A mother stood her ground saying, "Lived in Otara my entire life, my kids too. I refuse to move. I want to help make a change. Cmon peeps, we can do this."

Another community member said, "We need spiritual weapons, the greatest being prayer. whether you believe there is a God or not, prayer moves mountains."

Almost half of the Ōtara-Papatoetoe local board population identifies as Christian.

Local mechanic and business owner Albert Jackson was inspired to do something uplifting, offering a lesson in changing tyres for young boys to learn a valuable skill so they can help their solo mums.

Jackson said it had been on his mind for a long time but now was the right moment "to promote love because that's the only counter to fear".

Albert Jackson teaching a young man how to change a tyre for mum / Candice Luke

Albert Jackson teaching a young man how to change a tyre for mum / Candice Luke

The plight in Ōtara caught the attention of Smiley Campaign, a media charity that travels Aotearoa promoting positivity and uplifting community voices. The organisation explored the Ōtara Town Centre filming scenes of Samoan Language Week celebrations, the beloved Ōtara Market, and attended a community outreach hui.

Inspector Scott Gemmell, Area Commander for Counties Manukau East, supports the use of the Facebook group as a tool for connection.

"I'm really wrapped to hear community engaging and trying to bring about resolutions that are community-led," he says.

"If it has benefits that relate to community assurance and people feeling safe and feeling part of a neighbourhood then that's really cool."

Inspector Gemmell says there are community outreach hui lined up across the area with a safety action plan hui today in the Ōtara community.

Smiley Campaign is a media charity that travels Aotearoa promoting positivity and uplifting community voices. / Supplied

Smiley Campaign is a media charity that travels Aotearoa promoting positivity and uplifting community voices. / Supplied

"There's a lot of energised members of our community that want to help, want to feel safe, and we're here to support."

The Tribesmen and Killer Beez gangs believed to be at the centre of the shootings have connections in Ōtara and Kaikohe in Northland.

Three weeks ago a collective of hapū in Kaikohe (Ngāti Ueoneone, Ngāti Tautahi, Ngāti Whakaeke, Te Matarahurahu, Te Uri o Hau) placed a rāhui on the town after gunshots were reported and a gang member assaulted a man.

The collective has urged an end to gang violence before an innocent life is lost.

Echoing the sentiment of the Kaikohe community, an Ōtara resident in the Facebook group said their ancestors fought for the land they lived on.

"We need to do the same. Stop killing ourselves."

Public Interest Journalism, funded through NZ On Air