Building a wall – who’ll pay for ours?

Dr Katie Bruce
Director
Just Speak

Walls. A campaign promise and a metaphor. Barriers, exclusion, racism and hate threaten values of equality, peace and hope. But we’re better than that. That would never happen here. We can be secure in our moral outrage here in Aotearoa right?

Right now it’s pretty easy to in a perpetual state of outrage as the new US President signs order after order and strips away hard fought-for rights, freedoms and opportunities. I marched. I marched with my husband and our son to mark our outrage. To show solidarity with those who are already suffering and those who will. To show solidarity with those who marched for the first time and those who wonder why they have to march again for the same things they marched for 50 years ago.

It’s easy to be outraged by a wolf in wolf’s clothing and by new policies and legislation that were not here yesterday. But the danger is that it desensitises us to our own issues. At least we’re not like that. That would never happen here. Surely the global safe haven of New Zealand should be counting its lucky stars.

But I also marched to make this global issue a local one and to remind myself that we have much to do here.

Are we really a wall-less country of inclusion? Try telling that to Ashley Peacock who has spent the last 6 years of his life in seclusion despite no wrongdoing on his part. To the children who were shut in seclusion rooms at school. To the 23,000 children with a parent currently in prison.

We build walls because it’s easier than not building walls. Sure, it might be expensive, but it’s easier to shut people out than it is to include them. Or so it seems.

Tom Vanderbilt, in a recent New York Times article, says “The idea that we can solve problems by building physical barriers is a persistent human fantasy… Walls function as political placebos, seeming to produce effects, if only masking larger symptoms.”

So why do we keep building them?

Legal scholar Mary Fan argues that it’s because a fetish for hardware feeds the fantasy that we can resolve large, complex problems like crime with concrete and steel.

Not content with an imprisonment rate 40% higher than the UK and 30% higher than Australia, we are building new prison walls right here in Aotearoa to house another 1500 people at a cost of $1 billion.

When we build a new prison to house another 1500 people we all pay. We pay with our taxes. We pay with cuts to preventative services and support. We pay with the knowledge that building prison walls is the most expensive and ineffective response that we have. We pay with the knowledge that over half of the people imprisoned in these new walls will be Māori, even though they make up only 15% of the population. We pay with the futures of prisoners’ children who are 9 times more likely to end up within these walls.

Building walls takes money from the very things that could prevent people from ending up in the justice system in the first place. It take money away from our community sector. Instead we build a metaphoric motorway out of the pathway to prison and very literal walls to house people in. We take the easy way out and saying it’s too hard to include people in ‘our’ society.

We should be outraged at events in the US that will shape our global landscape. But we should also be honest about the walls that we build in our country and save some of our outrage for them.

This blog has been contributed by a member of ComVoices
ComVoices actively promotes the value that community sector organisations and their people, both paid and unpaid, add to New Zealand’s economic and social wellbeing through information, and political advocacy and dialogue.
Click here for our website: http://comvoices.org.nz/