Some of the country’s most notorious gangs and their leaders are gathering in south Auckland in an unprecedented show of unity against abuse in state care.
The Abuse in Care Royal Commission is nearing the end of four years of hearings and has begun hearing from gang members who claim childhood trauma in state care helped propel them towards a life of crime.
“Abuse in state care has produced a lot of what gangs are today, and the bros is trying to heal those people and get the government to realise their role in it all,” said Mongrel Mob Tauranga spokesperson Travis Edge.
In a ‘who’s who’ of the patched, leaders of Black Power, the King Cobras, the Filthy Few, and Mongrel Mob are among those who have agreed to attend the 200-strong hui.
“Having the brothers here, you know who you can walk with cos we are all on the same path when it comes to our babies. Those cases from 1950-90s, they weren’t our babies, they were someone’s babies,” said Ratahi Tekii, leader of the Kuki Squad.
His movement was started to represent 15 Cook Islands with members in New Zealand too.
Taupo man James Palmer was just a few months old when he says he and his siblings went into state care.
He was in foster homes until he was 17, in one case suffering brutal abuse at the hands of his foster carer’s grandson.
“While he was watching us he would make us have intercourse with other foster kids while he watched and stuff like that and we were only six, seven, eight years old, we hardly knew these people,” said Palmer.
Like many gang members who’ll present to the Abuse in Care Royal Commission, he describes trying to run away, to no avail.
“You are trying to explain to Child, Youth and Family and social welfare and they just don’t believe you. They left us in that home for about four years.”
Eugene Ryder too was in and out of boys homes his whole life, suffering physical and sexual abuse in west Auckland, Hamilton and Levin.
“Even the term state care – it’s ironic, an oxymoron,” said the 52-year-old, who found a sense of belonging with Black Power as a youngster.
Now he’s part-way through a law degree.
The Royal Commission says the evidence it gathers over the next two days will be included in its report out in June.
Hui organiser Sonny Fatupaito acknowledges gangs have their own role to play in affecting change.
“Leadership starts in the whare first, in the house, and from there it radiates outside of that.”
But listening counts too, and the Royal Commission is doing just that.