OPINION: The campaign against methamphetamine dealers in Ngaruawahia has predictably escalated into something more sinister and dangerous than running a few undesirables out of town. It was always going to do that.
What began as an ill-advised campaign of vigilante law enforcement, supported by many in the little town, has now advanced to shots being fired at a vehicle and threats of violent retribution.
The possibilities of serious injury and fatalities now have to be considered by hard-working police on top of their work try to catch drug dealers. Chasing people out of their homes and town, without the usual requirements of a trial, conviction or legal authority, was an act of stupid bravado that only those with a similar disregard for the role of the police could support.
It may also be that the police are not as concerned about inter-gang disputes, lethal or not, than they would be if other members of the community were at risk.
Tribal Huk, the gang, for want of a better description, which claims to have taken illegal action against suspected drug dealers, has previously won well deserved admiration across the country for their work in feeding school children on a massive scale. Such apparent contradictions are not new.
We have a number of international fast food chains operating in New Zealand and it is well known by dietitians that their produce adds significantly to the obesity and ill health of many of their patrons. It is somewhat ironic that some of these companies make huge donations to hospitals and other charities which are faced with the end result of their trade in unhealthy foods. In 1930s USA the arch criminal gang leader Al Capone operated a soup kitchen for the hungry and homeless to the acclaim of many. None of these charitable works however atones for or excuses criminal, anti-social or damaging conduct. Even the legendary Robin Hood of English folklore was little more than a petty criminal, and probably a murderer, who bought the loyalty of poverty-stricken peasants with food and other essentials to avoid capture.
Underlying all this upheaval and anti-social conduct are the criminal gangs, which authorities seem powerless to eliminate or control. Of these by far the worst are those which manufacture and sell methamphetamine.
There were clear warnings some years ago that, if the methamphetamine trade in New Zealand was not vigorously stamped out, there would come a time when it would assume epidemic proportions.
Given the number of serious crimes of late in which methamphetamines are implicated and the amount which has been intercepted at our borders, it is fair to assume that day has arrived. We have a growing list of multiple murders and suicides, ruined lives and shattered families all related in some way to the availability of hard drugs and methamphetamines in particular.
We are without doubt facing an epidemic as serious and dangerous to vulnerable people as the influenza epidemics which swept through the country in the early part of last century and we need the same united and determined response.
We are therefore faced with a number of options. They include more of the same police work, detection and prosecution which probably means we will have to endure more of the same level criminal activity and harm to the community as the police are not making a lot of headway as things are. For every dealer they put behind bars and every poisonous kilo they stop at the borders, many more go undetected.
Given that our young people seem to be the target of this evil trade, more of the same is obviously unacceptable. The recent activities in Ngaruawahia therefore should be seen as more of a cry for help than anything else from that little community and there are no doubt other towns with the same problem.
Our criminal justice system is designed to either rehabilitate criminals back into the community or lock them up for the safety of others.
If anything, other than people, was putting our youngsters in such danger, the reaction would be swift and permanent but have these dealers divorced themselves from civilised society and forfeit any merciful consideration by their trade?
By deliberately targeting vulnerable young people, methamphetamine dealers are not entitled and too dangerous to be allowed to live in any civilised community. That leaves us with two further options, life in prison without parole or the reintroduction of capital punishment. The situation we face is really that serious.