Home to some breathtaking landscape, New Zealand is also host to violent gangs. But some groups are now trying to re-brand themselves and set a possible example worldwide.
Auckland, New Zealand
New Zealand’s spectacular landscape, the setting for the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, attracts thousands of overseas tourists each year. Yet, few of those visitors realize that despite the beautiful mountains, volcanoes, and fiords, the country has a darker side: an entrenched gang culture.
The first Hells Angels chapter outside California was set up in Auckland in 1961, and nowadays New Zealand is home to dozens of gangs. Violent confrontations between groups such as the feared Mongrel Mob and Black Power are common, with bystanders at risk of being caught in the crossfire.
But some New Zealand gangs are now trying to re-brand themselves.
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Some leaders have publicly rejected violence and urged their members to embrace mainstream values such as schooling. The president of the Mongrel Mob chapter in Hastings, Rex Timu, says he rejects teenage would-be recruits, telling them to “go away and get an education.”
Gangs are attractive to young people who are seeking a sense of family, status, and protection, says sociologist Jarrod Gilbert. A gang can provide a career through selling drugs. Some New Zealand gangs are dominated by indigenous Maori, one of the country’s most disadvantaged populations. The Maori people suffer high levels of poverty, unemployment, and family violence.