Community meets to reclaim K Road
Auckland's GLBTI community, fed up with a perceived increase in violent attacks, is taking a pro-active approach to curbing violence in the Karangahape Road area.
Around 50 people turned out to the meeting at Auckland's Pitt Street Methodist Church last night, which was organised after an attack late last year.
Several of those in attendance detailed attacks on themselves or friends, and described their fears at walking in the area.
Karen Ritchie, a former member of the K Road Business Association and prominent activist among the community, came up with the concept.
While Ms Ritchie says the most recent attack on a gay man last Friday morning which has four young men facing assault charges does not appear to be motivated by homophobia, it is clear the gay community has had enough of crime in their local area.
"I don't think it's all gay hate - there's certainly some of that but it's also a lot of the people who are drunk wanting to give themselves a bit of fun by trying to maybe harass people," she says.
"I think mostly it's drunk dickheads that we don't need in this street."
Senior Sergeant Rod Salt, a police diversity liasion officer in the central city, agrees that most of the violence is not motivated by anti-gay attitudes.
"It's opportunist. It's just the fact that drunk offenders and the location, it wouldn't matter who it was. It wouldn't matter what sexuality, it's just the wrong place at the wrong time."
Mr Salt says while this does not make it acceptable for violent acts to be committed against gays, or lessen the severity of any such attack, the K Road area is problematic for all communities.
He revealed at the meeting two officers who dealt with a prominent attack on the opening night of the Rugby World Cup have been disciplined as a direct result of their handling of the case and gave a personal assurance he will not tolerate assaults on the gay community, or inaction by officers when one is reported.
A period of the meeting was dedicated to those present workshopping ideas to improve the area - however a multitude of barriers stand in the way, the largest being which organisation will take charge of any such actions.
New central Government liquor laws will give more power to local bodies over large aspects of licensed premises, but a number of those gathered felt a lack of police presence on K Road was a large factor.
"When I've gone out on patrol with them it's clear to me that they know where the issues are, they've certainly tried to address those issues but as far as I can see they don't have those resources they need," says Labour Party MP Jacinda Ardern, who ran for the Auckland Central electorate in the 2011 election.
While at times the meeting got heated, Mr Salt says the force still has a good relationship with the gay community.
"There is a lot of understanding that it's difficult. So I think [the gay community] is empathetic in what the police's situation is there and they realise we're doing the best that we can."
He says a large part of the problem is most crime in the area is committed by people travelling into the CBD and drinking.
"I don't think I've ever arrested anybody in K Road who lives in K Road," he says, "most of the offenders don't even live in the Auckland city district."
Those present resolved to create a working group and will hold another meeting in several months' time.