NZ activists’ lives torn apart by racist police raids
- Published: 12 December 2010
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13 December 2010
On 15 October 2007 armed police also blockaded the entire R??toki Valley, home to several thousand T?hoe M?ori, interrogating anyone entering or exiting the area.
Many of those arrested were well known anti-war, environmental, worker and Indigenous rights activists. The vast majority were M?ori activists. Sixteen of those arrested and charged with arms offences were detained in prison, some of whom were also detained in solitary confinement and threatened with charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act (TSA). At the time, the TSA included provisions for sending terrorism suspects to Guantanamo Bay.
The Solicitor General eventually ruled that terrorism charges could not be laid, and all arrestees were released from prison. But arms and gang related charges are still being pursued in the courts, and with the trial set for mid-2011 a number of the defendants are facing prison terms of up to five years.
In general, arms offences in Aotearoa are treated as minor violations, and very rarely incur prison time. Many have seen the raids and arrests as heavily politically motivated actions on behalf of the government.
The day of the terror raids is widely remembered in Aotearoa, with the following months filled with sensationalised newspaper reports of illegally leaked evidence that fuelled allegations of terrorism plans and training.
But little is known of the experiences of the people who were subjected to the raids that day, of the brutality meted out by the police to arrestees, partners, children and community members.
“Most New Zealanders will remember the lockdown of R??toki, the nation-wide raids, the “terror” hysteria followed by arrests and detention of people awaiting the decision of the Solicitor-General as to whether charges under the TSA would be authorised. What many people do not know is that the case is still on-going with 18 people awaiting trial, that the people of R??toki are still awaiting an apology from the police, and that resistance to the government’s phony ‘war on terrorism’ continues,” said Valerie Morse.
Valerie was one of those arrested during Operation 8, and has recently published the book The Day the Raids Came through Rebel Press. Launched on the third anniversary of the raids, the book is a collection of interviews and personal stories from arrestees, partners and family members who experienced the raids and their after affects.
The stress, trauma and heartache experienced by those directly and peripherally affected by the raids is palpable in their recorded words.
“These stories are a glimpse into the experiences of the literally hundreds of people throughout the country who were affected by those raids. These stories include political analysis of why the raids happened, of why police invaded the people of T?hoe in they way did,” Valerie said at the book launch.
“The terror raids of October 15th 2007 will go down in New Zealand history as one of the greatest police blunders of all time. They will be remembered for the extreme violence perpetrated on T?hoe, and their naked racism against M?ori."
The book is a powerful reminder of the blatant racism perpetrated by Western governments against Indigenous people, and their strident disregard for the rights of political activists. It captures emotions and moments in time that should shock any reader.
One such example is from the story of Marie Steens whose home was raided on the morning of October 15 2007. Her story in 'The day the raids came' describes how Marie and her 17-year -old daughter Amie were marched out of the apartment by police:
“They separated us, me and Amie. That made me tremendously sad. They wanted to separate my child from me. Amie was saying, ‘Mum, mum, just let me go.’
I was wearing a summer nightie, and she had her summer jammies on. It was six in the morning. They marched us 50 metres down the road to another street. It was cold. Day was just breaking. There was a van waiting for us at the end of the street.
They made me get into the van. They made Amie put her hands up on the van and proceeded to 'pat her down.’ Her body was in full view of a community that was waking up. I watched my child being humiliated and violated. Later, Amie told me that she felt doubly ashamed because she knew one of the kids down the road who went to the same school that she did.
They put her in the van and did the same to me. What made it really whakam? was they—I am in a nightie, you know, no knickers, no bra—they said, ‘Lift your breasts up.’ I said, ‘What? What do you think is under there?’”
Julia Grant was living as a caretaker at the anarchist community centre 128 in Wellington on the day of the raids. While different, her experience instigated a deep fear, a terror more awful than anything the arrestees have been accused of:
“I was asleep, sleeping very happily. The first thing that I heard that morning of October 15th was a giant crash. We had had major problems with the neighbours before, so I naturally thought it was them.
My first thought when I heard the giant crash of glass and shouting was, Oh shit, I am going to be raped, because I thought it was the neighbours coming in. It was instant fear. I thought I was going to be horribly beaten, but I was one of the lucky people and wasn’t.
When I heard that giant crash and some shouting, I just froze in bed and tried to pretend that I wasn’t there. The shouting got louder, and I heard people running up the stairs. I realised what they were shouting was ‘POLICE’ and something like ‘GET OUT.’ I decided to stay silent. I thought that maybe they wouldn’t see me. I wasn’t sure what they were doing, and I was scared. I stayed in bed, not moving as much as possible.”
Some of the stories shared in The Day the Raids Came are challenging to read, as you experience through words the fear, intimidation and harassment people were put through. It is a testament to the strength of those who shared their stories, that they have been brave enough to revisit these events for the book.
“I was careful on one hand because I didn’t want to traumatise people more by talking about what was happening. That is why it took so long to happen. On the other hand I really wanted people to understand what happened,” Valerie Morse told 3 News.
One of the strongest messages that comes through in the collection of stories is that, while the raids were shocking and traumatising for many, most were not surprised by the actions of the New Zealand Government in implementing these raids.
M?ori communities have experienced these kinds of raids on their communities ever since colonisation, and anarchist activists are well aware of the willingness of the State to use oppressive measures against those that challenge the system.
Te Weeti, who experienced the raid of the R??toki community on October 15, gives his perspective in the book on how the raids were an important reminder:
“It is not the first time in T?hoe history it has happened in this place, but it is the first time this generation had a personal experience of being stopped like that. I’ll explain it this way: when the government sends the police in, it is just a raid.
It is just an operation for them. For us, it is Here we go again—our whenua is being invaded again by the same state, only nearly a century later. They always come to this place; they have always invaded.
People are more aware now of what can happen. For me, I like that because it woke the people up to the fact that Hey, don’t ever think that a hundred years has gone past, and it will never happen again. It is always there.
Our younger people witnessed it; they went through it, especially the little ones. The adults talked to the high-school-aged children about how they felt when the police came this way and invaded this place.”
The book is an important wake-up call. It is a reminder of how the terrorism laws being brought in by many governments around the world can be used against political activists, and even ordinary people.
But it also a crucial record of political history from those who so seldom get to have their stories put to paper and remembered.
The Day the Raids Came can be purchased or downloaded for free online at Rebel Press.
You can find out more background and information about the solidarity campaign at October 15 Solidarity.
Lilia Letsch is associate editor at The Scavenger.
Image courtesy of October 15 Solidarity.