United States Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown on his support for Black Lives Matter, criticism of pulling down statues

The United States' Ambassador to New Zealand supports Black Lives Matter, but has pushed back against "destroying or wiping out our history".

The world has been rocked over the last month by a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of African-American man George Floyd. Floyd died when a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

While protests in the US began primarily against police brutality, wider systematic racism is now under scrutiny worldwide, including in New Zealand. Kiwi cities saw mass demonstrations and the appropriateness of statues of individuals symbolising colonialism has been put into question.

Appearing on The AM Show on Friday, US Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown said a lot is changing in the States. 

"You have the Black Lives Matter, of which I support. We do have a strong social fabric… it seems sometimes we need to be shocked to go and make changes and I think that is a good thing," he said.

US President Donald Trump's response to the death of Floyd and wider protests has been met with mixed reviews. While he showed sympathy for Floyd's family and has supported some level of police reform, Trump has also threatened serious force against particular protesters, stirred up conspiracy theories and has been accused of being tone-deaf.

"He is going to react however he reacts. I know how I reacted and how others have reacted. Publicly, I am here talking about it with you. I went on record saying I support the effort and I support peaceful protests."

On June 1, when protests took place in New Zealand, Ambassador Brown thanked Kiwis for showing solidarity with those in the US.

"The response of my fellow citizens - & those around the world - standing up for the rights of George Floyd, refusing to avert our eyes to the horrors of injustice, & peacefully demanding change in the face of tragedy- demonstrates the values of the country I know and love.

"I look forward, along with all those outraged by this tragedy, to seeing justice served. I thank my Kiwi neighbours for their show of solidarity, and share your commitment to change."

Brown told The AM Show that he didn't "support the violence and the destroying of public property and hurting and killing people.

"I think that takes away from the message and the death of George Floyd," he said.

Brown also thought that we often don't see or hear enough about the outpouring of support for both police and protesters.

"Many people are actually getting together and trying to solve problems, and that's what this is about," he said.

"We are not perfect. We are certainly not perfect and we are going through changes just like everybody. New Zealand's had protests about your history. We have had protests about our history. One thing I don't support though is destroying or wiping out our history. We have to learn and grow from those actions that we have done."

There have been calls around the world for statues of colonial figures to come down. A statue of Captain John Hamilton, who played a large part in the New Zealand Wars, was pulled down in Hamilton in June and sparked a conversation about whether the city should keep his name. 

Brown supported putting "disclosures" on the monuments. 

"This is what he did right and this is what he did wrong, and teach."

A similar idea was raised in 2017 when a monument of Colonel Marmaduke Nixon in Ōtāhuhu came into question. Nixon took part in an attack on a village in 1864 which led to the death of 12 Māori. After a debate over whether to bring it down, officials decided to look at ways to tell the full history of what happened and place Nixon into context.

Brown will end his tenure as Ambassador - which he says has been the best job his life - at the end of the year. He was chosen for the role by Trump in 2017, winning overwhelming support in the US senate. 

He will become president and dean at the New England Law school in Boston when he leaves the ambassadorial role.

Asked if he will consider returning to politics in the future, Brown didn't rule it out, but said that politics had become a "blood sport".