An outbreak of gang-connected violence has rocked Christchurch in the New Year and led to armed police officers patrolling the city streets. Tensions between new gangs on the block and more established city gangs have been simmering for months. Herald’s Christchurch-based senior journalist Kurt Bayer reports.
The double shooting came just days after a Head Hunters gang associate was allegedly beaten to death having gone out partying at a rival Mongols MC gang-pad.
So the first question was: Retaliation?
A Mongols gang associate was said to have been around at the time of the two shootings in the North Canterbury river town of Kaiapoi in the early hours of Monday morning.
But it didn’t seem linked to the killing of Christchurch father-of-one and former pimp Kane Wayman – an associate of the Head Hunters gang – in the early hours of New Year’s Day.
A source didn’t think so. Another said no.
But members of three other gangs had allegedly been caught up in the gun violence: Mongrel Mob local president Joseph Wiringi’s son Fairmont was shot and rushed to hospital in a critical condition. The Rebels MC and Neighbourhood Crips (NHC) were mentioned.
The boundaries of the Garden City’s gang landscape appear to have become blurred in recent times.
Once, there were very definite rules and hierarchies.
Back when New Zealand’s first outlaw motorcycle club war started in Christchurch in 1974, the established Epitaph Riders told a newly-formed Devil’s Henchmen they couldn’t wear back patches at all.
Their war lasted for months, says Jarrod Gilbert, a sociologist and author of Patched: the History of Gangs in New Zealand, and involved stabbing, shootings, bombings.
Remarkably, only one person was killed.
And despite flare-ups through history – especially during the 1980s when heavily-fortified gang pads lined Lincoln Rd in the city’s Addington area – deadly inter-gang warfare has been rare.
But gang numbers are booming. Almost 900 people joined a gang last year – up by 13 per cent – according to police data.
There are now well more than 7000 gang members across the country and rising.
New outfits are muscling in on the lucrative drug trade, including gang members with Kiwi ties who have been deported from Australia.
Known as 501s, referring to the legislation underpinning the deportations, they have had a disproportionate influence on the Kiwi gang landscape because of their trans-national organised crime links and sophisticated tradecraft, including use of encrypted phones.
Jared Savage, Herald investigative journalist and author of Gangland: New Zealand’s Underworld of Organised Crime, says such gangs like the Comancheros and Mongols are ratcheting up the tension by expanding into rival turf and strategically “patching over” senior members of other gangs.
And in Christchurch, the incomers have upset the delicate gang eco-system previously dominated by chapters of the Mongrel Mob, Tribesmen, King Cobras, Nomads, and Head Hunters.
Last year, Mongols MC members, including national president Jim David “JD” Thacker, himself a 501 deportee, established a chapter in the city after patching over ex-members of the notorious Hells Angels international bikie group, including Jason Ross who would be made the local president.
The Mongols – marked by their distinctive symbol of Genghis Khan riding a motorcycle – set up a South Island headquarters at a rural property near Burnham south of Christchurch, just off State Highway 1. They had already established a major presence in the Bay of Plenty before the move south and been targeted by police in Operation Silk, which resulted in guns seized and dozens of charges.
Just after they rolled into town, a barbershop on Wainoni Rd, with only tenuous links to Ross, was gutted after a firebombing.
And then a month later, the Burnham gang-pad was shot at in a drive-by shooting, before it was raided by police who found a cache of firearms, including military-style semi-automatics, drugs, and $50,000 in cash.
The Mongols have not been quiet since their arrival.
One underworld source told the Herald this week: “They’ve caused nothing but hell for everyone.”
Prisoners with affiliations to the Mongols were also reportedly key figures in the Waikeria Prison riots over the last week.
In December 2018, Nomads gang associate Shayne “Smiley” Heappey was killed in a frenzied knife attack during a planned “hiding” over breaking gang rules. Patched Nomads enforcer Matthew Winara Webber was jailed for at least 15 years.
Although gang violence is usually kept within the murky underworld circles, the New Zealand Police Association says it’s only time before innocent members of the public are caught up in the cross-fire.
Association president Chris Cahill is worried about the escalating gang violence in Christchurch over the last five days. But says it’s been coming.
“It’s certainly a burst of activity that we really just don’t need and could do without,” Cahill said.
“The reality is it’s just a continuation of what we saw last year and it’s been building up for several years.
“These gang members are arming themselves and they’re so much more willing to use those firearms either to commit offences against each other and against police.
“The big concern for me is police are fair game as well and it’s only a matter of time that the public are as well.”
And National police spokesman Simeon Brown said the Government needed to introduce more measures to quell gang warfare incidents.
“The recent double shooting in Christchurch involving gang members is yet another sad example of firearm violence in New Zealand, which should not be tolerated,” Brown said.
“Gangs are continuing to live up to their violent reputation. Their use of guns in public has become far too common.
“We cannot wait until an innocent member of the public gets caught in the crossfire. The Government needs to address the increasing use of firearms by gangs immediately.”
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