Navtej Singh fatal shooting armed robbery Auckland

Following the alleged murder of a tagger in South Auckland in January, the government announced a crackdown on tagging. Now after the fatal shooting of a liqour store owner in South Auckland last week, the Prime Minister is planning a crackdown on liquor outlets – surely a knee-jerk, blame-the-victim response.

Helen Clark said yesterday police had told her that violent offending in South Auckland appeared associated with binge drinking and the area’s proliferation of liquor outlets. It was a nationwide problem.
Officials had been asked to look at a range of measures including capping the number of liquor licences and widening the grounds on which the public could object to a liquor licence being granted, she said…
The move follows the fatal shooting of Navtej Singh, 30, during a robbery at his Manurewa liquor store on June 7.

But as history postgrad Paul Christoffel explains in a paper entitled “Restricting Access to Alcohol in New Zealand”, excessive restrictions on liquor outlets actually contributed to one of Auckland’s most notorious murders:

In December 1963 the bodies of two men, Frederick Walker and Kevin Speight, were found in a house in Auckland’s Bassett Road. The men had been shot with a submachine gun, earning the killings the label ‘the Bassett Road Machine Gun Murders’. Not surprisingly, this was a drug related murder. More surprising, perhaps, is the fact that the drug in question was alcohol. Speight and Walker had rented the house two weeks earlier and were using it as a base from which to sell liquor without a licence, a practice known as slygrogging. Their killers were rival slygroggers who objected to these newcomers muscling in on their turf. So why, in 1960s Auckland, were criminals illegally selling a drug whose sale has always been legal in New Zealand?

…In Auckland in 1963 there were around 90 pubs in a city which, even then, had over half a million people. This dearth of drinking establishments was for two main reasons. The first was that the law from 1893 to 1948 all but prohibited new liquor outlets… The second reason for the lack of pubs was the entrenchment of what are known as ‘dry’ districts – electorates in which the sale of alcohol was prohibited… So we had in Auckland in 1963 a sprawling city in which some 200,000 people lived in suburbs where liquor sales were illegal. Most of the rest lived in areas where liquor outlets were scarce and were prohibited from selling after 6pm. There were few licensed clubs and the first licensed restaurant in Auckland opened in 1961. It is perhaps small wonder that slygrogging thrived.

Exactly. If you criminalise something, or even just restrict the supply, you will create a black market, with inevitably violent competition. And while there is currently no, or almost no, black market in alcohol, further restrictions may well resurrect the practice of “sly-grogging”. Especially as excise tax goes up again on July 1, raising the price of spirits by up to 10%. Ill-thought-out policy will result in unintended consequences – in this case, providing another profit-making opportunity for organised crime.

Brewing supply shops are doing well – with a 25-litre still you can produce vodka for about $4/litre, compared to $40/litre for even the cheaper brands at a liquor store. (And it’s not too bad either – readers are invited to visit the Pacific Empire flat and sample our own home-distilled spirits). So if some enterprising outlaws bought a still, they could be assured of a decent profit, as long as they kept an eye out for rivals armed with machine-guns.

4 Responses to “Liquor stores, violent crime and blaming the victim”

[...] Liquor stores, violent crime and blaming the victim [...]

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[...] Liquor stores, violent crime and blaming the victim [...]

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Heh. Your politicians are about 9 decades late and a dollar short. America tried this once. It didn’t pan out so well. Nor has our “war on drugs.” Ideologically driven policy is blind and dangerous.

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Well exactly. NZ only avoided prohibition because World War One ended just before they held a referendum on it, and it was opposed by tens of thousands of thirsty veterans. We dodged a bullet there ;-)

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