It took me almost 10 years to notice that the green ink snaking across my old man’s forehead said “Mongrel Mob”. I never thought the bulldogs wrapping around his hands meant gang member. I mean, he was a dog lover, and he was Dad.
You never really know your parents’ life before you were born, right, even when it’s written across their bodies. You only know the person who is, your mum or dad in the here and now, and it’s almost impossible to imagine they’re someone other people might fear. This is why it took almost 10 years to figure out that the thing on Dad’s head was the reason people were locking their car doors when our family was walking past.
And in one sense, who can blame them? “Gang member” is a vivid signifier, and to most people it signals all the worst things: crime, violence, and a community gone wrong. Never mind that you’re far more likely to suffer violence at the hands of someone you know than at the hands of a random bloke with a patch.
Stereotypes are hard to shake and overestimating a gang’s impact on people’s lives and communities is one reason the “war on gang” rhetoric is so effective, even if as a policy it fails time after time. In a play to this very overestimate National leader Simon Bridges is promising a police unit to quite literally harass gang members. Its name: “Strike Force Raptor”.