President's Column: Politicians feeding off a climate of fear

NZPA - Greg O'Connor | Mon August 1st, 2016

The world is watching the American presidential election with fascination and trepidation. Donald Trump is not only tapping into a rich vein of fear among American voters to bolster his popularity, but is also deliberately inflaming that fear.

Every new terrorist act, high-profile crime and, latterly, police shooting is used to create a picture of a country under siege and from which only he can save them.

Unfortunately, media, including social media, becomes the conduit for his message, and reassurances by those who actually have some facts are dismissed as politically inspired denials.

Into this mix has gone the recent police shootings of members of racial minority groups. Most New Zealanders are rightfully uncomfortable with the footage, knowing that shooting a suspect in those circumstances would never be tolerated in New Zealand.

In the United States, such shootings have led to the rise of political groups feeding off the same fear, hatred and ignorance as Trump. The rhetoric of these groups has led to the assassination of several police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge by clearly disturbed individuals.

When New Zealand police were forced to use firearms against two dangerous offenders last month, commentators here tried to draw parallels with what is happening in the United States. The insinuation was that New Zealand police were behaving like US police.

Fortunately, we are not in a Trump-like, fear-mongering environment that allows hate groups to thrive.

To ensure such claims did not get purchase, it was necessary to point out the obvious – both of the people police were forced to shoot in New Zealand were from very different backgrounds and the only common denominator was that they were heavy meth users.

To their credit, the New Zealand media accepted that and the debate has been focused where it should be: on the prevalence of meth and organised crime in New Zealand.

Subsequent denials of the meth problem by Government are dangerous because it could result in the public doubting the real reasons why two men became so dangerous that police were forced to shoot.

That’s the environment where fanatical commentators such as Trump and those leveraging off police shootings thrive. Being honest about our drug use and other issues is important. Dangerous mischief of the kind we see in the US thrives where the real facts are suppressed.

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