Sean Plunket: Why Taika Waititi really does have a point

Opinion 05/02/2019
Photo: Getty.

By Sean Plunket, Magic Afternoons host

Opinion: I don’t get to Hamilton often, so don’t get me wrong - I’ve nothing against the place. It just doesn’t hold a lot of interest for me.

The second to last time I was there it was in answer to an invitation from the sadly defunct, but happily replaced, Wintec Press Club. I was asked to come and explain why I or anyone else should give a toss about the outrage that followed a couple of tweets I’d made about Harvey Weinstein.

It was an easy assignment, as speaking truth to an audience always is, despite a couple of journo mates warning me that these Wintec lunches could get a little rugged and personal.

Just in case, my mates (a well-known media couple) offered to come along and booked me a room at their favourite, faded glory, Hamilton Hotel.

The speech went OK. I took questions afterwards, and after a few free drinks at the venue and some rather amateur attempts at moral outrage from a couple of the guests, it was time to move on.

They told me not to piss the cop off and just stay quiet.

As often happens with journos in the absence of any real story, it was decided that everyone should adjourn to the nearest pub for an argument over a beer or wine. The Tron was quickly growing on me, as were a few of the originally hostile members of the audience. Fast forward several hours and a group of us kick on to my hotel room, which happened to be big enough to host an indoor bowls tournament and even had a walk-in safe.

A plan was hatched. A young sports reporter and I would procure the booze while everyone else would find a Chinese takeaway to ensure we complied with best drinking practice.

The Tron was quickly growing on me, writes Sean Plunket.

It was a simple enough plan until we discovered a dearth of Bottle shops on the main drag with a corresponding absence of Uber or Taxi services to take us there. The resourceful reporter came up with the idea of flagging down a passing car and offering them money to drive us to a bottle store and back. My scepticism for said plan was soon debunked as a small Japanese import pulled over, where we would pay $20 to get us to the bottle shop and back.

We crammed in the back of the car and were greeted by a young Maori fella, Isaac, and his girlfriend Ruby - also Maori. They were a nice young couple in their mid-twenties. Isaac worked in landscaping in Auckland and was down for the weekend to attend a family trust meeting of his hapu. He was well-spoken, friendly and urbane. He also knew where the nearest bottle store was.

I’ll admit I had a few onboard by this stage but was thoroughly enjoying my night on the turps in the Tron. But when we were about 200 metres from the bottle store, I heard the howl of a police siren and saw the red and blue flashing lights of a police car behind us.

Even more disturbing to me was the acceptance of such blatant harassment...

Let me make it quite clear that Isaac was sober as a judge, his car was registered and warranted, and he had not infringed any part of the road code.

But the moment he pulled over both he and Ruby changed completely. I observed he had nothing to worry about as he’d done nothing wrong but that didn’t stop him literally shaking with fear as a six foot plus police officer in blue overalls with a fully equipped utility belt approached the car.

“This your car?” asked the officer. “Yes boss,” replied Isaac, who had immediately adopted a docile persona as the cop demanded his license with no explanation as to why.

He then asked for name, addresses and identification from the rest of the car. Ruby handed hers over, as did my mate. I refused, giving only my name and the fact I lived in Wellington. I asked why he’d stopped the vehicle when there was no response or engagement whatsoever but Ruby and Isaac seemed to be signalling to just let him proceed.

By this stage Isaac was seriously distressed to the point where he asked, “I need to have a piss, can I go take a piss boss?” Hamilton’s finest wasn’t having a bar of it.

“You stay right where you are,” the officer said.

He sauntered back to his vehicle while Isaac and Ruby, heads bowed and smelling of fear, stayed put. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and I opined that the whole business was outrageous and abusive. They told me not to piss the cop off and just stay quiet.

After a few minutes the officer returned gave back all the documents he’d taken and without a word of apology or explanation went back to his patrol car. The relief was palpable, and Isaac took a leak at the bar attached to the bottle store just minutes later.

As we headed back to the hotel, we saw the same cop, lights flashing, turning over another car load of Maori just metres from where he had harassed Isaac. “How often does that happen to you” I asked Isaac, “All the time bro,” was his reply. “But you get used to it aye.”

We doubled Isaac’s gratuity when he dropped us off at the hotel and, from what I remember, the rest of the evening in the Tron was great fun.

But I couldn't stop thinking about what I saw on that short car ride in Hamilton that Friday night. The arrogance and latent aggression of the police officer was bad but even more disturbing to me was the acceptance of such blatant harassment by two young people who had every right to go about their lives unmolested and unbowed.

Of course, I will insist I’m not personally racist, nor are my friends, but I can’t disagree with Taika that as long as people like Isaac and Ruby are treated like that and are conditioned by society to accept it as normal, then New Zealand is indeed “racist as f***”.

Happy Waitangi Day.

Sean Plunket is host of Magic Afternoons, weekdays from 12-3pm.