Unpacking the complex layers underneath NZ’s recent crime phenomenon: ram raids
Recently, a new phenomenon has struck New Zealand’s front pages. Ram raids have been increasingly covered by the nation’s media and have only just entered the collective consciousness of New Zealand.
The hyperfocus on ram raids within the media has created a proxy for racism. Recently, ram raids have been a massive topic present on the front page of whatever newspaper or website people choose but data shows that last year, there were 283 ram raids, yet we had never heard about them as frequently until now. Ram raiding is not a new offense. The roots of the act stem back from pre-second World War Europe when smash and grab raids became common. Why has it become an increased aspect of today’s news within New Zealand?
88% of teenagers who go through the youth justice process have had a report of concern filed to Oranga Tamariki. Short story, others were worried that these kids were being harmed, abused, or neglected. There are a multitude of complex issues that are going on in these children’s homes that are both traumatic and generational. Much of the public’s response is to blame parents of these youth for “not parenting properly”. The truth is that these issues are intersectional, deep rooted, and have occurred over decades. It is not productive nor realistic to proclaim that we have to be “tough on crime” in these situations, for negative punishment has never been the most effective method of changing behavior.
Our youth have gotten to this point because of the environments they have grown up in. It is easy to blame the parents, but the reality is that they have also been denied the help they need for themselves. Vicious cycles of neglect and violence permeate communities that have suffered from land and culture loss. Land loss in New Zealand was one of the largest transfers of wealth in Pacific history. It has placed Māori at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, which comes with all the increased rates of health decline, trauma, and crime.
Earlier this year, I spoke with Mayoral Candidate Efeso Collins regarding the role stereotypes have on adolescent behavior and his experience as a youth worker. “If we’re not willing to uplift [them], then they’re going to fail because all they’re doing is acting out the indirect and direct messages that they’re getting. I realised that if someone doesn’t do it with young people—young men in particular—then we’re gonna act out exactly what the world tells us. That we are dumb. That we’re not good enough. And that manifests in things like ram raids. it comes out in domestic violence; it comes out in the relationship challenges we have. And all of that stuff leads to a future that’s abysmal”.
This kōrero speaks to the role media representation and stereotypes play in the minds of young people. From a young age, these kids have received direct and indirect messages about what the world thinks of them, which creates schemes in their mind about themselves. These children are acting out externally fulfilled prophecies. Coupled with the increasing pressure of simply surviving amid a cost of living crisis while in poverty, it is unsurprising that there is an increase in these sorts of crimes.
These raids have been increasingly conducted by young teenagers with some as young as 10 years old. Scientists know that the adolescent brain is still developing, that it is highly subject to reward- and peer-influence, and that its rate of development varies widely across the population. The peer-influence aspect in ram raids is evident. They cannot be done alone. Based on research, adolescents take more risks in groups.1 These kids exist in similar situations and similar circumstances and find comradery amongst themselves, raising confidence regarding behaviors. These neurological developments have begun to inform how justice systems approach adolescent crime by taking into account the fact that trauma and a developing brain can lead to these abnormal situations. It leaves the public judging people for having abnormal reactions to abnormal situations.
Whilst I’ve been urging people to look at the raids through a different lens, I extend my sincerest apologies to the victims of these acts. Ram raids, most of the time, occur to small businesses with 75% of raided stores being dairies. Oftentimes, these stores are repeatedly targeted, which revicimises those who already have that initial ram raid trauma.
Mikaere (Ngāpuhi) states that “for those outside of certain communities, it’s easy for people to place blame on certain individuals, because that’s easier than looking at the truth and accepting the solutions. Envisioning solutions to complex issues has never been something humans are great at because they are long term and hard to comprehend. It’s easier to tell the parents [to] do better ”. These issues have been created and have manifested across multiple years and so fixing them will unfold across a similar period of time. Occupational Therapy student Tahana (Ngāti Hine) states that he has a noted effect on the whaiora she sees. “Young people coming into mental health care have been traumatised and filled with a distorted sense of themselves, a distorted view of what it means to be Māori. Like Efeso said, these kids are receiving direct and indirect messages that give them no place to stand, no turangawaewae”.
 Steinberg, L. (2004). Risk taking in adolescence: what changes, and why?. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1021(1), 51-58.