- Alastair Reith
On June 25th, a white jury in Tauranga found Police Sergeant Keith Parsons, Senior Constable Bruce Laing, Constable John Mills and Sergeant Erle Busby not guilty of brutally assaulting Rawiri Falwasser, a young Maori, in October 2006.
With police like these, who needs criminals?
Rewi Falwasser suffered a mental breakdown on Labour Day 2006, and was not in control of his own actions. This is accepted by the police. He was arrested after stealing a neighbours car and driving erratically, endangering both himself and other people on the road.
The police took him to Whakatane police station, and put him in a holding cell. When they later came to remove him from the cell and take him to be photographed, he refused to leave the cell. According to Crown Prosecutor Fletcher Pilditch, Mr Falwasser was “stressed, confused and agitated”.
Following Falwasser’s refusal to leave the cell, Sergeant Parsons repeatedly sprayed him in the face with pepper-spray, and when he put up his hands to protect himself from this attack Parsons lashed out at his head with a baton, striking him on the hand and the wrist and leaving him with a 6½-centimetre cut to his arm.
Falwasser tried to flee from the attack, and as he did so Parsons hit him in the back of the head with his baton, leaving a five-centimetre gash.
Sergeant Parson eventually left the cell, which had by this time become filled with pepper spray, making it “intolerable for police officers”. Presumably working-class Maori are more able to tolerate having their cell filled with pepper spray than policemen are.
The cops continued to spray pepper spray through the vents into the room, despite Falwasser’s efforts to block them up with his clothes. He was bleeding profusely, and says that he “feared for his life”. He wrote the word “Jesus” on the wall in his own blood.
Family reacts with scorn and anger
The victim’s family reacted angrily to the court’s decision. His father Charles Falwasser labelled them “vermin” and “lower than the low”. The victim’s mother Kihi was “shocked and devastated” at the verdict, but said she was “not surprised”, as “We had a white jury in there… we live in a black-and-white world.”
Get tough on crime = get tough on poor brown people
This case proves the existence of racism and class prejudice in the New Zealand judicial system. It is highly unlikely that Rawiri Fulwasser would have been violently attacked in the brutal manner he was subjected to if he had been a white and middle class. The four police officers, all of them white, reacted more violently towards a man with brown skin, and felt more confident that they would get away with it. As this verdict shows, their confidence was well placed.
When violent crimes are committed by young, working class Maori in South Auckland, the response is a frenzy of calls for extended police powers and tougher penalties for violent criminals. Where are those calls now? Why is it that when white police officers brutally assault a young Maori man who doesn’t come from a wealthy background, there is no chorus of angry voices condemning their actions?
It seems that the cops were right to be confident - the New Zealand ruling class protects it’s own. “Safer communities together”? Yeah right.