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September 30, 2019 | by  | in Features |
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New Normal

There is nothing ‘normal’ about normality. To quote the Addams family, “What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.” A seemingly normal life can be thrown out of order in a split second, as was the case for Edmund Huang in June of 2008.

 

After a brief outing at the Manukau Mall with his mother, Joanne Wang, Edmund noticed a man in a balaclava running towards their car. As they attempted to get in, the man reached in and grabbed Joanne’s handbag and ran, with Joanne giving chase. “I tried getting out but my seatbelt was jammed so I was completely stuck. I was able to turn around and see what was going on,” Edmund recounted. 

 

The assailant then hijacked a four-wheel drive and proceeded to hit Joanne, who later died as a result of sustained wounds. “It wasn’t until afterward when the damage was done that the seatbelt just flung open,” recalled Edmund. “It was crazy, standing in a pool of blood.” It was later revealed that this was no random attack, but an organised assault orchestrated by South Auckland gang, The Killer Beez, who had targeted Joanne Wang specifically. 

 

“The aftermath was horrible. It was sort of like losing a part of yourself. Growing up, I was closer to my mum more than my dad. I missed her a lot,” Edmund told me. “Things were a bit bleaker and monotonous, but at the same time, Dad taught me how to grow up and to develop something new from that.”

 

This was unfathomable for someone like me, who has taken growing up with both parents for granted. I asked Edmund how he thought this extremely painful experience had shaped him into who he is today. “I think it has made me more work-orientated,” said Edmund.

 

“It’s really interesting because, to fully integrate into society, you sort of need to learn things from both your mother and your father, and because I lost my mother at such an early age, I was kind of taught to just pull up my sleeves and get to work and it was hard—it took me a while to understand my emotions.” 

 

This was dark subject matter for a conversation over coffee. As each word left his mouth, it felt as though the café grew more and more silent, so much so that it felt eerie. The warmth and welcome of the café changed into a chilling recount of gruesome murder. From an outside perspective, it seemed that Edmund had used this incredible hardship to focus himself, working harder and more efficiently than ever before. 

 

He told me of how he played badminton and how “pulling up his sleeves”, so to speak, allowed him to push past the struggle of losing his mother and move forward with his life. The idea of putting all else from your mind in order to focus on the job at hand seems to be a skill that Edmund has relied on heavily, and continues to use in daily life.

 

Did he still harbour resentment for the gang that took his mother away from him—or for the man who had taken her handbag and driven the car? Edmund’s answer spoke volumes of his character: “No, no, I remember, at the start, I held a lot of hate for that person,” he remarked. “I’m not going to lie, I did have some dangerous thoughts, like ‘What would I do if I was in the same room as him? Would I want to do some violent things or say some violent things?’—but over time I forgave, and it’s sad because afterward, I felt bad for him.”

 

Edmund explained further—“I felt like maybe it wasn’t his fault, maybe it was built on something else? Maybe peer pressure or something, but in the end, I came to forgive him.” However, Edmund’s forgiveness was met with shocking news. “I wanted to meet him afterward,” Edmund commented, “but it was too late. I heard the news that he had committed suicide in prison.” I had to know more. However, there was another pressing question that needed answering.

 

While researching for this article, I discovered that the leader of the Killer Beez gang, a man named Josh Masters, was released from prison in late 2018, after serving a ten-year sentence for dealing P. I was unsure whether Edmund knew that the leader of the gang responsible for killing his mother was once again a free man.

 

I posed the question of how he thought the police could monitor Masters better, now that he was released, and further asked what he thought the police could do to prevent further instances like this. His response was refreshingly positive.  

 

“In the end, I think these things are really hard to know. I do think that [his time in prison] may have shaped his perception and thoughts of what’s good and what’s bad, but obviously there’s still the chance that he’ll go back to his old ways.” He truly believed that Masters had the potential to reform. “In terms of changing that,” he continued, “I’d say [we need] the government increasing investment in policing, in the law and order sector. ” 

 

He raises a good point. In 2017, there were 228 reported cases of violent offences involving a gang member in Wellington alone. That—if compared to 2014, when there were 285 gang-related offences—is indeed a very positive development; a 20% decrease over the past four years. It shows that the initiatives to decrease gang-related violent crimes are in fact working.

 

New Zealand has a prevalent gang presence throughout the country. Gangs like the Mongrel Mob, Headhunters, and the Killer Beez all have a large presence in various towns and cities throughout New Zealand, going so far as to publicly display their chapter houses and gang meetings. 

 

But are we right to view gangs the way that we do? The image of a rough-and-tumble gang member is so ingrained in our minds by pop culture and the media that it can sometimes be hard to see the forest for the trees. Take, for example, Te Kai Po Ahuriri, a member of the Stormtroopers gang in Palmerston North. After serving jail time for drug-related offenses, Ahuriri reflected on his own upbringing in the foster care system and decided he wanted to make a difference.

 

He now delivers meals to the homeless population of Palmerston North, while still being an active member of the Stormtrooper gang. In cases such as this, are we right to maintain our prejudices towards gangs? Or does Ahuriri serve as a reminder to never judge a book by its cover, a gang by its patch?

 

In any case, the gang culture in New Zealand is by no means a clear-cut issue. Gangs have been responsible for instances of both violence and benefit, so judging them solely on any preconceived notions that we might have will do us no good. Whether personally you believe that all gang members are ruthless cutthroats, clad in leather—or that, when it comes to gangs, there’s more than meets the eye, it is important to keep in mind that there are people ike Edmund who have experienced just what gangs are capable of, yet can see the good in them—something the majority of us are unaccustomed to. 

 

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