A case study of racism by Police at Auckland Airport



A couple of days ago I returned from Samoa after attending a family matter and some contract work. Spending a few days in the warmth of our homeland was welcome relief from the cold weather starting to make its presence felt in NZ at present. Dressed in the customary shorts, t-shirt and jandals, we stopped briefly at Duty-free to pick up some supplies. Whilst there I had an unfortunate disagreement with the counter person who wasted my time trying to upsell products to me, after I presented her with the goods I wanted to pay for and get going. Holding my baby who was clearly tired from the flight, I thought was evidence enough that I wasn’t interested in chocolates, perfume or any more alcohol. But she persisted and I made it clear that I just wanted to pay for my stuff and go. Eventually I got an apology from them for wasting our time.

About 10 minutes later as we preceded to customs to give our passports and collect our bags, a couple of uniformed police officers made themselves known to us, requesting that we step out of the line to answer some questions. Holding our carry-on luggage and exhausted child we step out of the line to answer their queries. Unsure as to why they’re looking so aggressive towards us, we thought to go along with the conversation in the hope that it would be quick, professional and respectful. I had just returned from Samoa, where all the conversations I’d had were the latter – professional and respectful. I was quickly reminded that we were in NZ and the Police have a pretty different view of how conversations are conducted.

The officer opened the conversation by defending the store person and outlining their job description to upsell products. Somewhat bemused that he had taken the role of either her manager or union delegate I tried to understand why he had stopped us in the first place. I also wanted to know if this was going to be a conversation that adults had – where one person speaks and the other listens, then vice versa. He continued over the top of me before demanding my passport and other bits of information like name, address and occupation. Refusing to surrender my passport until such time as he allowed me to speak, he moved his hands towards his handcuffs while this time, in an even firmer and louder voice, told me that we were in a customs-controlled area and I was to surrender my passport immediately. Again, I queried him on why we had been stopped with no answer other than a clear command to surrender my passport.  Of some concern to us as well, was that the other officer stood body-up next to my wife with what seemed to be an attempt to intimidate her.

This discussion went on for some time. In the end I was more than happy to give him my passport and personal details but wanted him to understand that when you ask a person a question, the accepted practice was to allow them to answer. I tried to outline how confused I felt that when he spoke he expected me to listen and stop speaking, but when I spoke he had the right to interrupt, and then ask something else. It was obvious to me that we needed to agree to some rules around how we would conduct this conversation because we both had very different expectations. I was also keen to understand why he was so quick to offer a defence of the shop person after she and her manager had apologised to us for the way in which they dealt with us. None the clearer, after about 20 minutes he saw fit to end the conversation by saying he’d held us up long enough and we should proceed through customs. Even more intriguing was he even offered me advice on how I could fix my attitude.

Outside the obvious, there were a couple of things that stood out for me during this encounter. Firstly, the officer seemed quite agitated by my questioning of him as to why we had been arbitrarily stopped and pulled out of the line. I got the impression that for him, conversations were had where he asks all the questions and I was to answer only what he wanted to hear. He had no intention of hearing me out and essentially tried to bully me into doing what he wanted and nothing more. Secondly, after he asked me what my occupation was his tone, body language and approach changed. Almost instantly he asked me in a now somewhat courteous tone to offer my version of events. I took from this change of attitude that a perception he held of me had shifted and he was now prepared to engage with me as an equal, as an adult. My expectation of the Police is that when they speak to anyone, they haven’t already “profiled” them in their minds.

I wonder if things would’ve been different if I was wearing a suit, or had a regular haircut and not a shaved head, or if I was palagi. Further, I wonder how different things could’ve been if I wasn’t as proficient in English; didn’t understand my legal rights and didn’t see myself as an equal to him. These are the challenges faced by numerous young people, Maori and Pasifika communities as many of us feel bullied and disempowered by the Police in our interactions with them. My wife and I are both educationalists and whilst angered and insulted by the experience, we were glad that our daughter witnessed her parents engage in this unpleasant and biased dialogue with the cops. We want to model to her how to stand up for her rights: for what’s fair, just and reasonable in a manner that’s respectful and sure.

This treatment of us was appallingly disgraceful and we have lodged a formal complaint with the Police.

TDB Recommends NewzEngine.com




  1. Maybe the cop was just doing his job. I’ve had a grumpy brown cop be a bit rude with me once, didn’t put it down to racism, just thought ‘that guy’s having a bad day’. After being cooperative, the guy managed to have a laugh, in the end (after he ticketed me).
    Sounds like you were having a bad day too. It happens, you know. Try not to have such a thin skin, your life will be better for it.

    • Please explain how and why the fuck a cop is wasting time intimidating and harassing Efeso just because he doesn’t want to be upsold an item in duty free?

      Isn’t having the cops intervene to harass a customer who doesn’t want to be upsold duty free a phenomenal waste of time

      • Or – in right wing conservative speak – a phenomenal waste of tax-payers paid time (maybe if they have the time to do this then we need fewer police – thereby making some more $$$$$ for a more effective response to the PTSD that develops subsequent to sustained police bullying) or more Police could be diverted to do some actual community development, after of course being trained and acheving at least minimal ‘national’ standards in the basics like respect for the dignity of humanity.

    • @ “Crumb” – spoken like a true suck-up to The Establishment. (Until, of course, it happens to you, and not just the bullshit experience you related.) Are you a policeman/woman, by any chance?

      You would be very comfortable living in a Police State.

      (Although using a pseudonym on-line would not protect your privacy, and your identity would be known, and your movements monitored.)

      By the way, “doing your job” is not a license to act as an arrogant pig.”Doing your job” entails acting professionally at all times.

      That, “Mr/Ms Crumb”, seems to have escaped you in your hurry to be a police sycophant.

      • I’ve been on the receiving end of racism many a time, Mr Macskasy. The experience I related, which you are quick to dismiss, was at Maramarua, where I was ticketed for speeding and an expired WOF. The cop started out aggressive and tetchy, but because I cooperated with him and went with all his quite reasonable requests to see my license, answer his questions, etc, at the end of it he thanked me and said I should write to Wellington to get the WOF part dropped (it had expired a week prior and I’d just moved house).
        I’m a writer, not a policeperson.
        Making the leap to ‘you’d be comfortable living in a police state’ is a bit of a reach, no? The police are permitted to stop people going through the airport, yes? My wife’s been stopped and searched twice (profiled) – we didn’t mind, we did what was asked and carried on. No problem.
        Again, thanks for the warm welcome, like Mr Bradbury’s, replete with profanity.

        • Salacious I think you might have missed the subtleties of the situation. Efeso and family had done nothing wrong – at all.

          I guarantee this sort of thing would never happen to me (over 40 white male). First of all if I told the sales assistant I didn’t want any more sales that would have been the end of the matter – as I well know from experience. Secondly, since I reached 30 years of age Police have been nothing but courteous to me – even when wearing jandles

          You seem to be discounting Efeso’s report on what has happened – do you think that might be because he is Samoan and has a funny sounding name?

        • Crumb Brown people can be Eurocentric too, many times more so than Pakeha fyi.Efeso some people just don’t want to rock the boat and admit the obvious truth

        • If you just go along with these people all the time, rights will be trampled on forever. I am with Efeso, stand up don’t take this arrogant bullshit.

          • Wow, so you breaking the law by speeding and driving with a expired wof Is the same as Elfso not wanting to be upsold consumer products.

            I do love the blinkered inherent rascism you exhibit by implying a brown cop must be motivated by racism by ticketing you for breaking the law. Because you know white people speeding and driving without a current wof isn’t really breaking the law at all, it must be simmering brown rage.

            Truly remarkable.

            • Crumb – did the thought occur to you that perhaps the cop was grumpy not only because you were speeding and putting others lives at risk – but also – you were doing it on the most notorious My thinking is that he had every right to be grumpy as you were endangering the loves of other people . The man at the airport was not a danger to anyone and was not breaking a law – Your comparison is not valid.

        • Driving at an unsafe speed in an unfit vehicle is a serious crime, which you should not attempt to laugh off by alleging that a “brown” policeman persecuted you in a racist manner. You could easily have killed an innocent person, yet I sense no remorse in your statement. In fact, you attempt to trivialise your offence to the level of not wanting to buy over priced perfume.

          Your contribution to the enabling of police racism has been noted. Have a nice day.

    • Which country do you live in, in which the job of airport security is to aggressively defend the feelings of shopkeepers from brown people?

      Sounds like a racist backwater to me.

  2. It’s pretty much much a standard NZ Police approach. They’ll bully just about anyone they perceive as young enough, uneducated enough, brown enough, naive enough or weak enough not to be able to stand up for themselves.

    It really wasn’t personal, just part of their own trip. Don’t expect any joy from your complaint.

    Perfect pic top go with the post.

  3. And thanks to the “fictitious war on terror” the police feel more virile and ‘da man’ while flexing their police muscle on innocent people. Easier to intimidate innocents than Criminals if you have low self esteem and are scared though. Makes one feel they’re doing their job I guess. As Efeso says this thing happens all the time to Maori, Pacific people.

    BUT have you noticed JK has taken up the talking over people approach. Bridges tried it with Campbell but it wasn’t so successful.

    • Win,

      The irony in your statement is that virtually all ‘criminals’ are in fact ‘innocents’ within a punitive society.
      Race is one of the categories from which we select our criminals

      • The irony in your statement is that virtually all ‘criminals’ are in fact ‘innocents’ within a punitive society.

        Ever sat on a jury? We’re actually way better at classing criminals as innocents than vice versa.

  4. So – nothing has changed in 45 years then. Looking young, casual and brown was enough to get you targeted with attitude in the ’70’s, and it seems things haven’t changed much!

  5. BTW,

    What was the duty free shop’s name?

    They saw fit to complain to police.

    I suggest they be identified and readers here share their views on the matter directly to them.

  6. Thanks for sharing and standing up Efeso. I find it too tiring trying to stand up for myself more than I feel I should and I’m really grateful people like you do stand up and make complaints. I’m PI, male and in my mid-20’s and I’ve just accepted this is just the norm for Police.

    Also, thanks to everyone who commented and agree this behaviour isn’t fair. It’s comforting to know there are still nice people out there who genuinely care.

    God bless 🙂

  7. Your experience is not unique. My colleague, Kudawakshe Tuwe has made himself known amongst the Office of Ethnic Affairs and the Human Rights Commission for his racist treatment at the Auckland Airport because he is a black man, that has a New Zealand passport.

    My sister’s colleague, who is a Palangi who flies to Bangladesh frequently was stopped, and was asked to have access to his work computer to identify himself. He holds a NZ passport, speaks Kiwi English, and hade cooperated throughout the investigation. After 4 hours of investigation, they have finally decided to make a phone call to his manager to confirm that he indeed flies to Bangladesh for work and his work computer containts work related, but highly sensitive information.

    You can make a complain to the Police, they may apologise, but this is not going to stop. It is known too many times that from customs, to immigration to the police, it is not uncommon to receive racist treatment.

  8. I had a similar encounter with the NZ Police recently – an encounter in which I believe the Police tried to intimidate a victim based on his race and didn’t treat him properly because they knew he did not speak English very well, and was not aware of his full rights – I too wrote in a formal complaint, but am yet to hear back. I would be interested to hear what sort of reply your letter receives, so please keep us updated, Efeso.

    Thank you for sharing and posting, Efeso.

  9. This is not surprising. I am recognized as a refugee but the only time I have left NZ I was interrogated for almost 4 hours at the New Zealand airport when I came back. I was bullied and threatened to get my Permanent Resident Visa cancelled and returned back the same day to my home country (that would be against the UNHCR Convention).

  10. Bloody hell Efeso, that’s very embarrassing. My obviously pakeha boy got the same treatment by the people on customs who held him up for an hour making him miss a connecting flight…full search, rude attitude, just bollock brained blockwarts.

    When I went into the US I got the full eye scan, finger print, fifty questions by gun toting Customs guys and got released into the open air prison that is the US. There I saw first hand cops with the same attitude you describe. It pains me that the same attitudes are becoming internationally pervasive, its the same here.

  11. Certainly a bizarre incident and such incidents can really ruin one’s memories of an otherwise pleasant trip. Clearly the Police officer in question had some attitude going. The same with customs officials, condescending and arrogant, it must be amazing the things they suspect one is carrying to conceal pure evil.

    Frankly I’m a little surprised the duty-free store clerk offered to up-sell items. From my experience on some occasions when purchasing goods of some value from some shops, the sales staff would exhibit an attitude as if I’m some bad smell without a dollar to my name. Thank goodness for online shopping, exceptional service without the attitude.

    Some must choose their jobs to indulge in a power trip, to gratify themselves in making sure those they deem undesirable know their place. The impact of prejudice on the economy should be assessed, after all we keep hearing the importance of this precious economy, however it’s more likely power to an elite is really more important than any economy we hear of.

  12. I work for a community law centre and people ask why we would teach young people about their rights, but these kind of situations are precisely why. Thanks for posting this blog, Efeso.

  13. Cops in this Country, and I imagine cops generally, are dumb c@nts! And so generally are retail staff!! As a male Polynesian I find you must be vigilant and active with people in public Not to be drawn into incidences. Now I’m not a person who goes around making trouble, I’m a “sticks to himself” kindof guy getting on with my day, in the case of the few incidences that I have found myself in, they have all been incidences caused by other people, to which approach I have responded. I have found that the best way, the only way, when you’re a black man is to shut all the shit down!! Because people will try and come at you and make you show angry black man!! And the best way to shut people’s crap down is to remain silent and not to argue!! Cunliffes right, NZers “Sweat the small stuff” they can’t help it no money no jobs lots of time on their hands to cause shit!! My mantra now is that you actually have to be vigilant to Not cause drama! as opposed to being a passive participant in the way people behave, as a black man you have to be actively aware of these sorts of situations and have to Actively work to Avoid them, that’s the NZ we live in today!! Lots of sad stressed out people around dealing with shit and just looking for the first victim to take it out on!!!

  14. Do you think it was a set up by our ‘special’ cop friends who act above the law and have unlimited resources to harass and bully people? Thinking about it two things give it away. 1. Would a reasonable shop assistant behave like that lady did? Especially with said baby in hand? Mostly they are very pleasant and helpful. Would airport cops behave like that? Obviously not hence the complaint. They must have had you tagged when you boarded the plane. And if they have you tagged they know your every move. My son was stet up by them and this prevented his entry to the bar. To all intents and purposes it looked like it was his fault, but knowing my son (yes I know I’m his mother), that is not how he would behave. Anyhow $8000 poorer for (useless) lawyer fees, who incidentally was suggested by the cops to someone in a very vulnerable position, the law society refused his admittance. Yes things happen, but if so called ‘interesting’ things happen continuously, then you’ve really got to start asking yourself, was that coincidence or deliberate. The thing is though if you do question then you’re deemed paranoid, because it’s difficult to confirm. Anyhow I’ll post this and see what happens. This is the 6th time Rewritten this piece because I go to post and the message says I’ve gotten the catchpa value wrong. I’m not that bad at maths.

  15. I have seen similar behaviour in a local suburban pub in Wellington. A police patrol came visiting and harassed a Samoan customer. A quiet local minding his own business. Most of us in the pub knew him. The police kept harassing him until he he got (understandably) irritated and reacted angrily. He was arrested.

    One of my drinking companions happened to be a retired policeman watching the action. His comment to me was along the lines of “I am ashamed to have been a policeman, that was disgusting.”

    Back then it was called “team policing” I am not sure what gang intimidation is called in the police force these days, obviously the predatory culture has not changed.

    • It is still called team policing. Often times I am working a late shift in the city. I have seen this scenario many times. There is a liquor ban in place. Invariably if white people are caught by the cops with alcohol, they will be made to tip it out. On the other hand, people with brown colored skin who commit the same infraction are arrested, handcuffed, and paraded to a waiting van to be locked up.

  16. Good on you, Efeso, for standing your ground and hopefully enabling others to do the same. It shouldn’t happen though. But unfair treatment from profiling (what others may simply call discrimination) certainly does happen day to day in airports and from our police, as I have also experienced. There are some lovely people in the force, but it would be great to know that you can trust each police officer OR public servant in a position of authority to treat you like a person that mattered too. One day soon, hopefully.

  17. To the guy who said, “maybe he was having a bad day”… I am a teacher. If I am having a bad day – as soon as I turn up to work, it is my responsibility professionally, personally and as a citizen of planet earth to treat my students and colleagues, and others with respect. Its the same for all of us, so why should we accept less from the people who are supposed to protect us? We shouldn’t.

  18. Good on ya man! But complaining to the police may be a waste of time.. Your Airport experience is a normal one for most of us in doctors surgeries, MSD offices, Housing, shops, etc. Not all cops and NZers are like that, but it exists nonetheless.

  19. My wife who is Asian, once had a minor accident when riding her motor scooter when a car driver cut in front of her and she was knocked off her bike. The car driver swore at her, insulted her culture and called the police. Seeing she was Asian the policeman immediately assumed she was at fault. After some talking (she speaks English with some difficulty) she managed to convince the officer that the NZ (European) gentleman was not telling the truth and the matter was dropped. What was interesting was the policeman’s immediate reaction on seeing the two people:( Oh yes another Asian who can’t drive, no doubt! ) We are all supposedly innocent until proven guilty. If you are not European, you are seemingly guilty until proven innocent. (For the record I am European and my wife is a very competent driver)

  20. Yeah, the cop stuff sounds typical. I’ve knew a cop who was a nice guy before being stationed in South Auckland. He quit, after 3 years, the most racist person I have ever known. Unfortunately the Police are only human and shit they see and have to deal with takes its toll.
    It would be interesting to have a better understanding of the conversation that went down with the clerk though. I’m guessing it wasn’t all that civil if her manager and the police were involved. I have worked in customer service and have had to deal with abusive people who didn’t even realise that we’re being abusive. Sometimes when you mirror their attitude and they will adjust, and sometimes when you are feeling threatened you apologise to diffuse the situation. I have had to do this many times.

    • If going to South Auckland made your mate want to wear a sheet and burn crosses, I suspect it wasn’t the trip that made your mate racist. After all, this pakeha once attended a league tournament at Otara and didn’t even get to the stage of considering a vote for National.

  21. Mr Collins needs to explain in more detail what he describes as an “unfortunate disagreement”. The lady at the counter was suppose to know he wasn’t interested in anything else just because he was carrying a baby? When she asked him would he be interested in buying something else he “made it clear that I just wanted to pay for my stuff and go.” Then the shop manager obviously became involved as Mr Collins says he “got an apology from them”.

    Obviously Mr Collins behavior was disturbing enough that management called the police.

    The police arrive and after talking to the shop lady went looking for Mr Collins and explained to him that she was just doing her job. Mr Collins then acts belligerently towards the police who calls Mr Collins out about his attitude.

    Now Mr Collins is attempting to portray himself as a victim of racism. In fact I suspect he has an anger management issue.

    It is also curious how Mr Collins waxes lyrical about how wonderful Samoa law enforcement is, so “professional”. In reality Samoa is a corrupt, nepotistic 3rd World country, it has nothing on the NZ justice system.

    • @KIWI_GUY

      Mr Collins needs to explain……blah blah

      (starts out reasonably enough, declaring clarification on the facts needed before before passing judgement)

      ….(ends up making up stuff to suit his own bias) : –

      obviously – (inserts his own scenario) – …..The police arrive and after – (make up more stuff here) – …..Mr Collins then – (insert more fantasy) ….Now Mr Collins is attempting to – (insert conclusion based on complete fabrication and personal bias).

      • It is obvious that Mr Collin’s behaviour was disturbing enough that the police were called, and that they thought the situation was serious enough to warrant their attention.

        You accuse me of bias without providing any argument for this, while happily accepting Mr Collin’s version of events without question because he is claiming “racism”.

    • He doesn’t need to explain anything. The shop assistant should serve the customer and if she’s not aware that her behaviour is annoying then she shouldn’t be a shop assistant. And why should the police get involved in such an intimidating manner. Had he broken the law, punched her out, stolen the goods, knocked the counter over? NO. No need for them to get involved either. Can’t see the complaint going much further, especially if they were from the ‘goon squad’ masquerading as cops. That lot can do what they like, have unlimited resources and are above the law.

      • Yes Mr Collins does need to explain, because he is making accusations and needs to justify those. His story is full of red flags.

        The police can investigate incidents that involve inappropriate behaviour – no one has to have been physically attacked.

        Your hostility to police is so extreme you unquestionally buy into a one sided, flimsy narration that fits your meme.

        • Kiwi_Guy. No he doesn’t need to explain. 4 things: who caused the problem in the first place? The shop assistant. This is Auckland airport for goodness sake. She should be used to serving people of different ethnicities in a professional manner. 2. Why did the cops need to intimidate him? Ummmmm….
          And no I don’t hate the cops. Just the goons who like to fuck around with people’s lives and get paid by taxpayers for doing so. Are they doing the country a service? NO! Just radicalising people even further and giving the ‘cops’ a greater excuse for interfering in the private lives of law abiding citizens. I don’t think it was so much racism, but more about left leanings and colour. 3. Who gives them authority to do this? Ummmmm. Not sure. 4 how do I know this? Call it ‘wealth of experience’.

  22. Kiwi_Guy If he had sworn at the customer services rep, threatened to bash them or smack them over then it would be appropriate for police to step in…I highly doubt that to be the case cos then they could have arrested him. This salesperson probably just felt intimidated being told off by a brown person for being annoying, some people like that y’know. Maybe racist is too harsh a word, cos it implies “hatred”. Maybe more appropriate to call it being “racial” in that they tend to rely too heavily on stereotypes they have of other races through lack of actual interaction / friendship with people of those races (thats what I like to think anyways). (As we know, through study of sociology,the dominant culture in a country assigns stereotypes to minorities so they tend to be negative stereotypes too.)I knew of this older lady, a receptionist at work, from south africa, lovely lady, but scared to death of brown people (past experiences in SA apartheid and all). We had a glass see through building and when brown people walked past she would get scared. I think she was instrumental in having a locked security put on our doors cos she often expressed her fears to everyone who would listen. One time this brown guy was parked outside our building having a ciggie (turns out he was waiting for someone who worked in the factory, their uncle) and she was all panicky, in complete hysterics trying to convince our manager to call the SAS, police etc LOL. Our manager being a kiwi was not so convinced of the threat so asked her to wait while we observe, but man, she was so convinced this guy was up to no good, was crazy and gonna do something bad to us. Her totally irrational fear totally overrode her rationale and reasoning. One… there were like a multitude of businesses around us, far better targets for robbery than a shampoo warehouse, Two…who wouldn’t smoke outside their car when they own a flash car with a baby seat inside etc Three…her irrational fear made her seem to forget that there was quite an abundance of “brown people” working in our factory (whom walk past her everyday) and dismiss the very likely possibility that this may be one of their relatives coming to pick them up. Maybe in Johanesburg South Africa, when a coloured person sits outside a place of business, then 9/10 times he may have an M-16 and rocket launcher in his boot ready to ransack the place, but here in NZ, its just not the reality. I would love to know from Efeso what nationality this salesperson was. Maybe she gave the police an exaggerated account of things cos they see reality thru the eyes of their own country/upbringing.

Comments are closed.