Seven New Zealand gang leaders, representing four of the countries most well-known street gangs, have joined forces in a video urging their communities to get vaccinated, in a concept that was conjured up by a government minister.
The video was commissioned by the minister for Maori development, Willie Jackson, after a discussion with gang leaders, who then provided footage that was edited by Jackson’s son, Hikurangi, the Herald reported.
In the four-minute video, Denis O’Reilly, who joined the Black Power gang aged 19, says he had “taken a few shots” in his time, including the two shots against Covid-19, and he is asking his community “to do the same”.
“This is not all about gangs, this is all about our whānau (family),” says Harry Tam of the Mongrel Mob. “One thing we need to be clear about is that this is not about the government telling us, it is about the experts telling the government, that is getting us to vaccinate to protect ourselves.” Fellow member Dennis Makalio says it was a “no-brainer” for him.
New Zealand’s outbreak now stands at a total of 3,634 cases and has established itself along stark ethnic lines: about 70% of infections in the current outbreak are Māori and Pacific New Zealanders, who make up about 27% of the total population combined. About 72% of eligible Māori have had one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, compared with 85% of Pasifika and 88% of all people aged 12 and over.
The virus has been detected in at least three gangs, prompting health officials to some grant some leaders essential worker status, in order to engage hard to reach communities. Tam is among those given that status, saying “we are all vulnerable” but children and elders are most at risk.
Stephen Daley of the Head Hunters, says he was vaccinated because he cares about his children and wishes to protect his whakapapa (genealogy). While he does not want to push the vaccine on people, he does want everyone to make “an informed decision”.
Paula Ormsby of Mongrel Mob Waikato Kingdom urged people to seek out Indigenous doctors who are experts on Covid-19, if they are feeling hesitant.
Ta’alili To’omalatai of the King Cobras speaks in Samoan first, before delivering his message in English, urging everyone to get their shot “for the safety of our community”.
Black Power member Michael Te Pou says he is also a father, a grandfather an uncle and a brother. “We did this for our tamariki (children) and our mokopuna (grandchildren),” he said.
Criminologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert, told the Herald it was “brave” of Jackson to publicly associate himself with such a broad range of people in gangs.
“This is an example of what needs to happen if we’re going to reach hard-to-reach communities – by using people who are respected in those communities.”