Yesterday evening a stranger knocked at my door, asking for a smoke. It was slightly unnerving and I was glad that a friend was with me as well as my greyhound Caleb (not that Caleb would have been much protection – if anything had gone awry he would be the one hiding behind me, as greyhound owners will be well aware!).
The guy wasn’t aggressive, but he was obviously disinhibited, which made me suspect he may have been using alcohol or drugs. My friend and I apologised and he left without event. I called my neighbour who said he’d had the same visit. I also contacted a couple of other people I know in the street to let them know.
Then I called the police. I felt conflicted in doing this because the guy was Māori with a full moko, and of course the police asked me to describe him. I did my best to not sound like a privileged, racist arsehole and described his height, clothing etc first, but eventually I was asked about his race and distinguishing features, so, you know, what could I do?
I then assured the Police he was not aggressive, I didn’t feel threatened and that he may have needed help, but that I was letting them know just in case he came back with an altered mood (similar things have happened). I also said I use a wheelchair, which made me feel vulnerable.
What troubled me about this was that I had only two choices in terms of alerting someone to the obviously unusual experience of having a stranger come to my door asking for a cigarette: to do nothing or call the Police. It concerns me that there are only “no guns or big guns”, and nothing in between. This is paralleled by young “offenders” being dealt with in court. People being arrested and even jailed just for smoking cannabis. And so on.
Supposedly we live in the most technologically and socially advanced civilisation ever. Yet the way we deal with problems is generally so polarised and hostile. I’m not “beating up” on the Police – what they do is usually honourable, courageous and just.
But as 2020 comes barrelling towards us at a rate of knots, isn’t it time we designed an “in-between” system, one that is caring, supportive and healing, rather than either neglecting or over-reacting to the outcomes of its non-existence?
Philip Patston is one of NZ’s top diversity consultants and Managing Director of diversitynz.com