OPINIONĀteaMarch 29, 2021

Why Police Ten 7 hurts us


A former host of the police ‘reality’ show said last week that ‘it’s very difficult not to develop a slight attitude to a group of people that are constantly offending’. Mariner Fagaiava-Muller responds.

Last week I found myself sitting through a rush of mamae. Throat dry, tears welling up, heart beating furiously. The same feeling that I get walking through public in a hoodie – the purse clutching, the rush to get out of my way. Eyes rolling when I talk.

It’s the same feeling I got overhearing the Palagi in my class dismiss our financial struggle as “dole bludging”, knowing my smart, hardworking, single mother couldn’t find a job even after graduating from a bigwig university.

The feeling that I get simply being a 6’3, sometimes straight-passing, queer Sāmoan/Tongan man from South Auckland. That kind of mamae.

Police Ten 7 has helped ingrain a stereotype of me and my community as thugs that need to be locked up. “It’s very difficult not to develop a slight attitude to a group of people that are constantly offending.” That’s what former Police Ten 7 host Graham Bell had to say when asked by Newstalk ZB host Kerre McIvor whether the police had an “inherent mistrust” of Māori and Pasifika.

To me, what Bell was really saying is that Māori and Pasifika men should be characterised by the criminal offences of a very small segment of their community. This he did without acknowledging any of the historical, social or economic context for our over-incarceration.

There’s nothing like hearing about us from people that don’t know us… again.

Former Police Ten 7 host Graham Bell (Photo: supplied)

Statistics are often used as a starting point for analysing criminal behaviour. But as Moana Jackson has told us again and again, the question shouldn’t be: why do so many brown people end up in prison. It should be: why do colonised countries imprison so many brown people? The disproportionate rate of Māori imprisonment is mirrored in the numbers of Indigenous peoples who have also been colonised in Australia, Canada, and the United States.

How is calling the overrepresentation of Māori and Pasifika in crime statistics “cold, hard uncomfortable truths”, as Bell did last week, of any value whatsoever? We won’t get anywhere by simply regurgitating figures. And a pat-on-the-back TV show like Police Ten 7 isn’t the vehicle of accountability that Bell seems to think it is, as this piece exposing it as police propaganda clearly shows.

How about episodes of Police Ten 7 where they front up on why Māori are seven times more likely than Pākehā to be on the receiving end of police force, including pepper spray, empty hand tactics, taser and firearms? Why 88% of Māori and Pasifika think that police violence comes down to structural racism, rather than individual choice?

The CEO of the company that produces Police Ten 7, Philly de Lacey, has said “[the show] plays a really important function in society. It’s crime solving, useful for the public, and it’s also an education tool.”

Here’s the part it played in my education, having attended a decile one, all-boys school: my brothers and I were prescribed our future by this show. It was a running joke during high school that we would become the next “case number one”. Never mind the heights we aspired to, or the brown excellence that surrounded us in the hood – that far outweighed the absolute crumbs this show claims as “education”.

An educational tool should be balanced and fair. Where is all the white-collar crime? Where is the show about the Dawn Raids? Because I definitely wasn’t given the chance to learn about the police terrorising Pasifika migrants until much later in my schooling – as an elective subject. Things like low income, poor health, access to education – analysing these indicators of inequality for Māori and Pasifika people would be far more educational in grappling with the real catalysts of, and solutions to, crime.

Current Police Ten 7 host Rob Lemoto (Photo: supplied)

You already watch us with a ball on the field, with guitars in our hands and you want to watch us get arrested too? Don’t think that because of this you know who we are. We are not your entertainment. The fact a brown man now hosts the show? I couldn’t care less. Give me kaupapa and impact.

For as long as it continues to air, Police Ten 7 will continue perpetuating a stereotype that has caused intergenerational hurt; a mamae that consigns us to the backseat of a police car. It’s time we were given the chance to exist in a world that wants us to succeed and doesn’t use our vulnerabilities as entertainment.

Keep going!