The shooting of Steven Wallace

8 May 2000

Steven Wallace was shot dead by a police officer over a week ago after smashing windows with a baseball bat and golf club. There is still no official explanation as to why this happened. Police spokespersons have said that the police homicide enquiry may take several weeks; while the Police Complaints Authority enquiry may take several months. There are serious discrepancies between the reports from witnesses and the brief statement issued by the police about what happened at the time of the shooting.

Given the anguish of Steven’s family and friends, and the depth of public concern about the shooting, surely by now the police have sufficient evidence to answer the most pressing questions. Why did police officers decide to arm themselves with guns when Steven was obviously not carrying a firearm himself ? Why didn’t they choose another option to stop him - for example, by waiting for the dog unit which was apparently on its way from New Plymouth ? Why was Steven shot four times ? Why were local people who tried to offer him comfort and assistance as he lay bleeding and dying in the street for 20 minutes prevented by the police from going near him ? Why is this young man dead ?

In a region where injustice is the common theme for Maori stretching back more than one hundred and fifty years through land confiscation, peaceful resistance which ended in incarceration and death for some, there is a strong feeling that this is another atrocity to add to a long list.

Steven’s death is not seen as a tragedy, it is seen as an outrage. In the short term, the answers to the questions above have to be forthcoming, and justice has to be found for the loss this shooting has brought to Steven’s family and friends. Without this there is no chance whatsoever for healing even to begin.

TITOKOWARU (?–1888).

Maori warrior.

A chief of Ngati Ruahine tribe of South Taranaki, Titokowaru was prominent as a prophet and priest. He was responsible for organising a campaign against Government forces by gathering picked fighting men around him from neighbouring tribes. A most skilful warrior, he was second only to Te Kooti in guerilla warfare and trained his men in bush fighting, surprise attacks on small military posts, ambushing, and enticing untrained white troops into unfamiliar terrain.

Titokowaru's pa was Te Ngutu o te Manu, deep in the rata forest near Hawera. In his large assembly hall and temple he selected his war party by curious methods of divination, using his sacred staff. During the attack on his pa in 1868, when Von Tempsky was killed, Titokowaru walked up and down the clearing inside the stockade, disregarding bullets, and, spear in hand, recited prayers to ancient Maori gods. After the battle–a victory–he stood with his hands resting on his spear and in a croaking voice ordered the 20 white bodies to be burned. Then he farewelled Von Tempsky's corpse before lighting the funeral pyre.

His most famous victories were at Te Ngutu o te Manu and Moturoa where Government forces were heavily defeated. Maoris attribute his decline of power to an illicit liaison with another chief's wife at Tauranga-ika pa. This circumstance was fatal to his own prestige and sanctity so that he was no longer “the invincible war priest and war captain of his people”. After stands at Otautu and Whakamara, Titokowaru was harried by Wanganui Maoris until he finally abandoned the district, with his power broken, never to fight again. He settled at Kawau pa in the upper Waitara Valley until 1875, and died in 1888.

Remembered for his outstanding military leadership, he was a master tactician in guerilla warfare; as an engineer he modified the fortified pa and made it virtually indestructible, even to artillery and mortar fire. In later years he came under the influence of Te Whiti and led the ploughing parties at Parihaka.


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