National MP Todd McClay speaks to the third reading of the Government Asset Sales bill, Parliament Wellington, New Zealand, Tuesday, June 26, 2012.
National MP Todd McClay speaks to the third reading of the Government Asset Sales bill, Parliament Wellington, New Zealand, Tuesday, June 26, 2012.

National MP for Rotorua Todd McClay should not be allowed to ban gang patches.

His latest piece of legislation that attempts to crack down on patches for gangs like the Mongrel Mob, Black Power, or the Tribesman in public buildings is a blatant restriction on freedom of expression, though he sees it as a stepping stone to later ban gangs altogether.

Like hate speech laws, a ban on gang patches doubles-up provisions that already exist in the statute books.

For example human rights lawyer Robert Hesketh said yesterday in a NZ Newswire piece: “the ‘unnecessary’ bill should not proceed past its select committee stage, unless it is rewritten to include a requirement that the gang insignia it covers tends to intimidate the public or incite confrontation between gangs.”

As Labour MP Andrew Little pointed out in Parliament back in August, “It is an attempt at gesture-politics that will do nothing…it is poorly motivated.”

From a cynical perspective, I would imagine if that if Parliament voted tomorrow, unanimously, to ban particular gangs altogether, then the level of gang involvement in illegal activity would not change in the slightest.

By their very nature, gangs are covert and hidden, carrying out their foul and vile deeds under dead of night, within their own run-down houses, and the homes of others. So to ban their symbols in clean and pristine public buildings is arbitrary – it serves no other purpose but to infringe on freedom of speech.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor warns us not to underestimate the power of gang patches: "It's all about the patch, “he says, “People die for disrespecting the patch.” This should be taken in to account, but through other means. For example: wearing a patch when you’re arrested? Police can confiscate it, permanently if you’re convicted of said crime. It’s as simple as that.

Just as we are all equally able to express ourselves in public through speech, images, and the written word, we are all equally culpable under the law for the actions we carry out. Wearing a gang symbol while carrying out a pack-rape of a 12-year-old girl does not make that crime any more severe or disgusting, but evidence of a culture of violence that ought to be crushed from its foundations.

Todd McClay’s attempt to both ban patches and gangs themselves is ultimately arbitrary, as it does not address the root causes of membership: poverty, systemic violence, and a sense of belonging in desperate situations. Instead, it proves to be a threat to our fundamental liberty.