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tess-2-copyTess Casey

Chief Executive | Neighbourhood Support New Zealand

I sat down to write this blog on the afternoon of Friday 15 March.  It was supposed to be about Neighbours’ Day Aotearoa.  I think it still is.

It is hard to digest what has happened.  The terror attack in Christchurch was targeted at our Muslim community, and the people who bore the brunt of it were the innocent people in the mosques at the time and their families who are now dealing with grief, uncertainty and loss.  They are the people who first and foremost need our love, support and protection. The wider Muslim community is also grieving and feeling vulnerable and unsafe.

But there is no denying that this attack has deeply affected the entire country.  New Zealand was chosen as the place for this act of violence to be carried out.  The collective feeling everywhere seems to be a mixture of shock, sadness and anger.

We are going to have to have some hard conversations in the days and weeks to come.  Our gun laws are inadequate.  We need to fix them.  There is some odd logic in our rules about community safety.   Why are we so stringent about some aspects – like fireworks, the use of ladders and certain breeds of dog – and yet we allow people to purchase and use automatic weapons.

There are questions to answer about the role and use of social media.  We’ve seen the best and worst of it over the past few days.

Perhaps the hardest conversation is the one around racism.  It is easy to focus on the fact that the terrorist is Australian, and therefore not one of ‘us’.  But we know that there are New Zealanders who hold similar attitudes and beliefs.  We’ve seen the online comments and heard the talkback radio.  And we all know people who have been the subject of jokes, verbal abuse and physical abuse because they are Maori or Muslim or Chinese or gay or have a learning disability or are somehow different to someone else.  This behaviour normalises bigotry and gives oxygen to extremist points of view.  The events of last week are a wake-up call and an opportunity for us all to examine our own attitudes to difference.

The person who did this wanted to promote fear and hatred.  Instead we’ve seen the opposite.  We’ve seen outstanding acts of bravery from our Police, paramedics and the members of the public at the scene.  We’ve seen dignity and forgiveness from the survivors and families of the victims.  We’ve seen many thousands of people extend love, support and kindness.

I keep thinking about our young people and the march for Climate Change that they organised last Friday.  They let us know loud and clear that we need to stop putting important issues into the too-hard basket.  And I keep remembering what they said in the Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s ‘What Makes a Good Life’ report.  Our children and young people said that for them to have a good life they needed to be safe at home and in their communities.  The things that made them feel unsafe were not having safe and accessible public spaces, bullying and not feeling accepted.  They said that they want to live in communities with a sense of connectedness and togetherness.  They value community spaces where they feel comfortable and enjoy festivals and events that celebrate their cultures.

We need to make sure that our young people know that we have heard them and give them hope that we are going to make their world a better place than it was on Friday 15 March 2019.

This year we are celebrating ten years of Neighbours Day with ten days of Neighbours Day.  From 22 to 31 March all New Zealanders are invited to connect with and get to know the people who live and work around us.

If ever there was a right time for Neighbours Day Aotearoa, the coming week must be it.

 

This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network. The views presented here are not necessarily those of ComVoices.

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

Click here for our websitehttp://comvoices.org.nz/