I felt sick, so I went home in the afternoon and had a nap. When I woke up there were seven unread messages on my phone. The jury in the Urewera Four[i] trial had reached a verdict and it would be read out any minute now.
I sat in bed with my cellphone in one hand, the other hand hitting refresh on googlenews. The verdicts dripped in slowly.
First we heard that the jury was hung on count 1: the organised criminal gang charge.
Then we heard that Urs was found guilty on five of the arms act charges, and the other three were each found guilty of six of the arms charges.
Finally we got to read the full breakdown:
COUNT 1 – Participation in an organised criminal group – JURY HUNG ON ALL DEFENDANTS
COUNT 2 – Arms Act (Nov 2006) – All not guilty
COUNT 3 – Arms Act (Jan 2007) – All guilty
COUNT 4 – Arms Act (April 2007) – All not guilty
COUNT 5 – Arms Act (June 2007) – Urs NOT guilty, others guilty
COUNT 6 – Arms Act (August 2007) – All not guilty
COUNT 7 – Arms Act (Molotov cocktails, Aug 2007) – All not guilty
COUNT 8 – Arms Act (Sept 2007) – All guilty
COUNT 9 – Arms Act (Molotov cocktails, Sept 2007) – All guilty
COUNT 10 – Arms Act (October 2007) – All guilty
COUNT 11 – Arms Act (Urs and Emily) – Guilty
COUNT 12 – Arms Act (Taame) – Guilty
COUNT 13 – Arms Act (Rangi) – Guilty
I guess this is a half victory. They’ve been acquitted of about half the arms charges. There’s a hung jury on the gang charges. There’s something kind of abstract about a criminal conviction on its own—we won’t know how horribly this will impact the lives of the defendants until the sentencing hearing on May 24. Then we’ll know just how furious to be.
Ever since the raids on October 15 2007, it’s been hard to talk about the case. While the accused were on remand I couldn’t shake the feeling that people I cared about were being held to ransom in exchange for my silence. Speaking out in support of anarchism, of tino rangatiratanga, of revolution, seemed dangerous. Like it would make the people in prison look guilty by association.
I think it’s important not to give in to the instinct to stay silent. The crown wants to scare us all into silence. When most of the population is too scared to articulate the desire for a better society—one free from the violence of colonisation and racism—the minority who do speak up look like terrorists. When criticism of the state is common, people are used to it. The first time you hear someone talk about tino rangatiratanga, they might sound dangerous and crazy. The tenth time you hear it, you might disagree with them, but the idea doesn’t sound so shocking anymore, you’re used to it. By the hundredth time you hear someone voice support for tino rangatiratanga, they’re expressing an idea so widely held that no one would think to argue with it. After all, democracy was once a radical and controversial idea. So was gender equality. So was the abolition of slavery. Pushing the boundaries of acceptable discourse is an important part of social activism.
During the trial it was clear that the four weren’t being tried for the things they were actually charged with doing. They were being tried for supporting te mana motuhake o Tūhoe. The crown’s entire case hinged on convincing the jury (and the New Zealand public) that anyone who supports sovereignty for Tūhoe must be a danger to society. Emily, Rangi, Tāme and Urs aren’t being punished for possessing illegal weapons or for organising a criminal group. They’re being punished for having political opinions that undermine the legitimacy of the New Zealand state.
During the summing up part of the trial, the judge instructed the jury that, ‘Maybe there are two worlds as [Tāme’s lawyer] Mr Fairbrother has suggested but there is one law—the law that binds us all and under which you must reach your verdict.’
That’s true. There is only one law in New Zealand and that is the coloniser’s law. There could never be a fair trial. The New Zealand courts aren’t an objective arbiter between the prosecution and the defendants. The courts are part of the same colonial system that the defendants are fighting against, the same system they were on trial for fighting against. I’ve heard people say that the charges are bullshit, but really it’s the justice system that’s bullshit.
There’s no justice under colonialism.
[i] Some have pointed out that the name ‘Urewera Four’ is inappropriate, since it implies an ancestral connection to Te Urewera that not all the defendants have. I’ve used ‘Urewera Four’ because that’s what the capitalist media have been calling them, so it seems like the most recognisable name, but I do want to acknowlege that it’s problematic.