Patching up the differences: An exploration into Whanganui gang identity
The District Council (Prohibition of Gang Insignia) Act 2009 (‘Gang Insignia Act 2009’) came into force in 2009 and prohibited the ‘display’ of ‘gang insignia’ within ‘specified areas’ of the Whanganui District. The purported aim of the legislation was to reduce intimidation of the public and confrontations between gangs. There was no requirement for intent on the part of the wearer of the insignia. This made the Whanganui gang insignia ban unique in terms of criminal law as it maintained that harm was inflicted due to group identity rather than specific conduct. This raises the question of how an identity can be constructed so that it is considered capable of causing criminal harm. To address this question, this research looked at the ways in which the media contributed to the construction of gang identity during the period of 2004 to 2013. This was achieved through (1) a content analysis of reports from three print newspapers and two online newspapers, (2) a content analysis of reader interactions with the reports, and (3) a textual analysis of two print newspapers. The research was guided by moral panic theory so looked for ways in which the events related to stages or elements of moral panic. The focus of the moral panic was also expanded so as to explore the overall context operating at the particular time. It was found that the events did correspond to a moral panic model and that whilst the panic was triggered by key occurrences of gang violence, the underlying motive for the panic could be attributed to racial tensions, penal populism, and the use of a terrorist frame. Whilst this research focuses on the construction of gang identity, the techniques used by the media can be applicable to other group identities.