Hope you enjoyed the Rugby World Cup opening on Friday night. Things got a little hairy, what with the train system shitting itself, overcrowding, and people treating the inner city like their own personal rubbish dump.
I’ve tried not to recall images of the former Iraqi Information Minister when I heard you’d said that Auckland was “a victim of our own success”.
I’d like to take a few minutes to tell you about another victim from Friday night.
His name is Paul Heard, co-owner of Urge, a small gay men’s bar on K Road that likes to help out its community. Paul and his partner Alan have, through events at the bar, helped raise close to $20,000 for various charities over the last few years, not just for the gays, but for organizations like the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Diabetes New Zealand as well.
Paul was working the door on Friday night when three drunk men pulled up in a jeep outside the bar and proceeded to keep on drinking. He ignored them until they got out of the car and started urinating up against the store front – yes, that’s right, they were literally pissing on his business.
He approached them and said if they wanted to take a leak, perhaps they could go and use the empty car park around the corner. His request was greeted by simian grunting, and then when he turned his back, one of them cracked him across the back of the head, knocking him to the ground where he blacked out for a few seconds.
Dazed and confused, Paul next remembers other staff, including his partner, coming out onto the street to stop the situation escalating. He had the werewithal to take photos of the culprits, their car and their licence plate with his camera phone before he was struck across the head again by these thugs.
Four policemen turned up, at which point our three heroes backed off about a hundred metres and feigned innocence.
The police quickly decided that the issue was one of rival groups having a go at each other, and adopted the role of peacemaker, merely hanging about to ensure that no further violence occurred.
Paul attempted to explain to one of the policemen what had happened, while our trio of rugby boofheads stood at a safe distance yelling out “fucking faggots” and “it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”. The police attending did nothing.
Paul said he wished to press charges for assault, and cited the photos on his phone as evidence of who his attackers were. The policeman said it was too busy to do the whole time-consuming arresting thing, it was really just Paul’s word against the drunk apes, and to cap it off – he wasn’t hurt, so probably best to leave it.
At this point, Paul was bleeding from his head.
I’ll give the police credit for one thing though, Len – they confiscated the rest of the alcohol in the men’s car, so at least they couldn’t continue their behaviour elsewhere. But then, despite the carpet of empty beer cans on the road surrounding their car, they let the men drive off without even bothering to breath test them.
That’s the sort of thing that wouldn’t go down too well on Target – you know the show where they use hidden cameras to catch tradesmen sniffing women’s panties when they’re supposed to be doing their job?
These policemen were sniffing panties.
I can already hear people tutting and saying that services were overstretched that night, and these policemen were making the best of a bad situation.
But if they had time to stand and observe homophobic taunts, then turn a blind eye to a gaybashing and – most likely – drunken driving, don’t you think they also might have had time to, I don’t know, do something about it?
It’s akin to standing and watching your children getting eaten by a tiger and not intervening, because you’re waiting on the call to say your wife is being eaten as well. The logic doesn’t really hold, does it?
Our community isn’t perfect, but it’s a pretty close-knit one. And generally, when there’s trouble going on right in front of our faces, we’ll step in and sort it out. I think most New Zealanders are like that…except when The Rugby is on.
Somehow, we’re all expected to sacrifice things because The Rugby is on. It must take priority, because of the wonderful benefits its presence will shower on our country.
Well, when it comes to gay men being viciously assaulted or abused on K Road, the rugby has been on for the past year.
When it comes to being pushed in front of cars, punched in the face, or merely being spat on and called a “fucking faggot”, our community has quite a few stories to tell.
But nothing seems to have been done to make Auckland’s well-known gay strip a safer place for us to be. There always seem to be other priorities.
I’m writing to you because when you were elected last year, you said your door was always open, and you were willing to listen to us.
You also said you were a staunch liberal Catholic, but “very aware and sensitive to people making their own choices about their life” and being “totally respectful of that”.
I would hope your respect for choices – which being gay isn’t, by the way – wouldn’t extend to tolerating the choice to get drunk and bash gay men on K Road, or the choice to join the police force and selectively enforce the law.
Before you ask, the matter is being taken further – Paul is going to attempt again today to lay a complaint with the police. Maybe this time someone will listen.
But I think you need to listen as well, because there’s elements of the city you’re presiding over right now that are pretty damn ugly.
There’s a lot of visitors in town, and we wouldn’t want them thinking Auckland is anything other than a happy-go-lucky town of grinning quaintness and hospitality.
After all, they’ve seen John Key on Letterman, and they’re probably already annoyed that he’s broken his promise of not picking them up from the airport. Think of the stern letters you’ll be getting if one of them ends up in a bleeding heap on the pavement as well.
I invite you to come spend next Saturday night on K Road, unaccompanied, and see how safe you feel. If things get a little scary, come down to Urge for a drink. The guys there will look after you – just don’t go outside on the street until it’s daylight. We can’t guarantee your safety.
But then again, it’s not our job to, is it?
PS. Do you think if the police won’t listen that we could maybe just turn K Road into a giant corporate box? Not even officials can get into those, so I think we’d be pretty safe then.
UPDATE: Despite a later complaint to police, and the presentation of photographic evidence, including the licence plate of the alleged offenders, no arrests were made.