On Friday 23 January, Halatau Naitoko - a 17 year old Pacific Island father - was shot in the chest by police who were in pursuit of an armed bag snatcher. The shooting took place on the North-Western motorway where the suspect attempted to switch get-away vehicles. Naitoko was driving a van, doing courier work.
The lack of clarity and contradictory nature of the information around the events is troubling. Some reports indicated that shots came from the offender throughout the pursuit but not at the scene of the fatal shooting. Police in early reports on the following Saturday implied that the offender was firing shots at the scene of the fatal shooting.
The Herald on Sunday reported that the Auckland Assistant Police Commissioner told a press conference that the suspect’s shotgun had one shell in the bridge, indicating a shot had been fired, while witnesses are reported to have said that shots had been fired throughout the pursuit. Some sources say that the suspect fired upon a police helicopter, however, the police could not confirm it.
It took the police over 24 hours following the incident to publicly admit that the fatal bullet was from a police weapon. The events still do not make sense to the public who should not have to wait around for a full inquiry before accurate details are made available.
Naitoko’s fiancé Stephanie Cook told the Herald on Sunday that ‘I am so angry, they should have been more careful. It is going to take more than an apology. They have taken away my daughter’s father - she is never going to know him… I am so angry I hope they get what’s coming to them.’ In the same report Naitoko’s father is quoted as saying ‘I want justice… I am angry he has lost his life for no reason at all. They could have used different methods to get the guy’.
In its statements the New Zealand Police are appealing for public sympathy. While it is undoubtedly true that the police who were directly involved in the shooting will be regretful, this is not a reason to defend the police over the issue. Just as Naitoko’s fiancé and father have done, progressive forces, community leaders, and others must denounce the shooting. A strong signal of outrage needs to be sent to the government and the police force. If the police force is not criticised we can only expect a steady escalation of police powers and a normalisation of, or desensitising to, these kinds of incidents.