Express supplied questions to Emilie Rākete, press spokesperson on behalf of People Against Prisons Aotearoa (PAPA) who emailed responses this morning. Emilie notes her answers, ‘represent the organisation’s positions and not those of any individual.’
-You were formerly a member of No Pride In Prisons – when did this group disband and when did PAPA/your involvement with PAPA begin?
In 2016, No Pride in Prisons was made aware, through the work we do with incarcerated and previously incarcerated people, that outside of the context of Pride, our name was confusing. Many people interpreted it to mean “There is no pride in prisons,” or that prisoners should be ashamed. Because our guiding principle is that the criminal justice system is at best a blunt tool, incapable of solving the social problems it is deployed to address, and at worst is actively racist and harmful, we have no intention to alienating or shaming those subjected to it. We, therefore, changed our name to People Against Prisons Aotearoa in early 2017.
-Did representatives from PAPA attend all of Auckland Pride’s community hui?
PAPA supporters attended a number of Pride hui and members with direct experience of racism and transphobia from the New Zealand Police attended a hui as a group to present their experiences.
-Did the representatives from PAPA who attended these hui, have a shared aim/goal that they hoped their attendance would achieve? If so, please state what it was.
PAPA’s position is that, objectively, the New Zealand Police is a racist organisation. This is most easily seen in the Tactical Options Research Reports which the Police has published annually since 2014. This was,
ironically, the year in which Police first marched in uniform in our parade. What this data, published by the Police themselves shows, is that there is a dire trend of disproportionality in the use of force by Police. In 2014, Māori were 7x more likely than Pākehā to be the victims of police brutality. Every year, that disproportionality has grown every year, the New Zealand Police force grows more and more discriminatory towards Māori. As of 2017, the most recent TORR data
available, Māori are now almost 8x more likely than Pākehā to be the victims of police brutality. This is a trend in which we, as a community with a huge platform in which the Police is clearly very interested, have an opportunity to intervene. By asking the Police for even a small, symbolic concession that their treatment of Māori is objectively discriminatory, we can pressure the organisation to make observable and measurable changes in their treatment of some of the most vulnerable,
marginalised people in our society. PAPA’s position is that the Police should be not be in Pride at all due to their shameful actions — we support Pride’s request to the Police because it is a progressive, actionable compromise. Pride events in countries such as Canada and the US, with similar rates of police brutality to New Zealand, make similar requests of their local police forces.
-The Auckland Pride Board say the feedback from these hui lead them to inform NZ Police that they could march in the parade, but not in uniform. How did PAPA feel about this decision?
PAPA’s supports the politicisation of Pride, given that it is the public expression of the power of gay liberation. We have an opportunity to ask the Police to go beyond the rhetoric of diversity and inclusion and actually change the way their staff routinely beat and abuse Māori at rates far higher than any other population in the country. That even a symbolic acknowledgement of this violence is considered outrageous shows how shallow the institution’s commitment to ending racism is.
-Prior to the hui, did any members of PAPA have any close connections to or relationships with, any of the current Pride Board members?
The only time I’ve ever really met any Pride board members is during Pride meetings. I think I met Cissy once when she facilitated a meeting at Rainbow Youth during my time there as Tangata Whenua representative.
-At Sunday night’s hui former Mayoral candidate Lisa Prager, questioned why PAPA had focused on the Pride Parade and were not picketing the likes of the Ministry of Justice and Police headquarters. Can you tell us a bit about why PAPA has focused on the Pride Parade and what other activism PAPA has taken part in and events PAPA has had a presence at?
People Against Prisons Aotearoa is a national community organisation with more than 400 registered supporters and members. We are currently working with dozens of incarcerated people right now, meeting with their case managers and prison administrators to have their human rights met. We have secured our trans sisters’ access to hormones. We have had prisoners removed from solitary confinement cells which meet the UN’s definition of cruel and inhumane treatment. We run the largest prisoner penpal network in the country, with more than 600 participants inside and outside of the wire. We have picketed Police Headquarters, Department of Corrections offices, the House of Parliament. We have met with Ministers of Parliament and Ministerial staff, we have presented submissions on Bills before the select committee. Our members have conducted award-winning research on New Zealand’s criminal justice system, we have spoken at international criminology conferences, we have published peer-reviewed research in scientific journals on the crises and contradictions of New Zealand’s criminal justice system. We have petitioned for the abolition of solitary confinement, we have published an anthology of prisoners’ letters detailing the torturous conditions in solitary confinement in New Zealand. We have bought our gay and trans brothers and sisters shoes when they were released with nothing. We are doing all of this work because we know how important it is to serve the people. We are doing this work because if we didn’t, it very probably would not happen. We engaged with the Pride consultation because it was one thing among dozens that our organisation does every day to combat the brutal, racist, dysfunctional criminal justice system. A chorus of voices from the community spoken out against police brutality — look over social media and you’ll see people from every walk of life saying that this is a genuine issue. Casting PAPA as the villains in some melodrama is a way to pretend this is a conspiracy, when the reality is that we are only one aspect of a groundswell of support for Pride’s decision. This is not a conspiracy perpetrated by that one trans woman you and your mates hate – this is people power.
-Has PAPA applied to have a float in the 2019 parade?
That decision is with PAPA’s membership, not me. There is an energised, vibrant, excited community organising around gay liberation right now. That should make any of us who treasure our history happy.
-express’ aware a Special Meeting has been called with the aim of overturning the Auckland Pride board. If this were successful and the police uniform ban was lifted; would PAPA plan to protest the parade?
This conversation has brought a massive conflict inside our community to the surface. PAPA is far from the only part of this conflict. It is clear that a huge constituency of queer and trans people support the decision to ask for a symbolic concession from the Police. Regardless of the decision made by PAPA’s internal democratic process, it would be naive in the extreme to believe that community opposition to police brutality begins and ends with us. This problem will not go away until police brutality statistics no longer reflect institutional racism.
-is there any message you have for the LGBTIAQ+ community/express readers, that you would like to conclude our interview with?
Sylvia Rivera, one of the mothers of our struggle, stood before a crowd in the Christopher Street march screaming “GAY POWER”. Gay power over our enemies, gay power over those who oppress us, gay power over a society that will continue trying to hold us down until we make it stop. Gay power to the people.
Express has reached out to NZ Police for comments regarding the statistics PAPA have provided in this interview.
Photo by Dan Lui | No Pride in Prisons protests Auckland Pride Parade 2015.