Victim of alleged racist attack says he felt Christchurch police 'victim-blamed' him, failed to investigate for weeks

A Christchurch man who went to police to report that he'd been the victim of a racially motivated attack says he's lost faith in the system, after he felt officers victim-blamed him and failed to investigate the incident for weeks.

Adam*, who is of mixed heritage, says he was assaulted by a group of men in Christchurch CBD on the night of August 1. He alleges his attackers used myriad racial slurs as they delivered kicks and punches to his body.

But when he went to police to report the incident two days later, Adam says the officer told him it was just a petty assault, insinuated he may be partly to blame,  and then failed to follow-up on the incident for more than two weeks.

Police are now investigating the incident and insist they take hate crime seriously, but Adam says his experience shows there are flaws in how allegations such as his are handled by the authorities.

'It all kicked off': How the alleged assault played out

The incident took place following a skate competition in central Christchurch on Saturday, August 1.

As soon as Adam and his girlfriend arrived at the event, a small group of men approached them and likened him to CJ from Grand Theft Auto - a black video game character.

"I kind of laughed along with them, just because I've dealt with this all my life. It's easier sometimes to smile and wave than have to get into the nitty-gritty of things on a Saturday night when I'm trying to enjoy myself," he said.

But the group kept on approaching them throughout the evening, each time comparing him to a different prominent black celebrity.

"They were saying 'you look like Jay-Z, you look like Will Smith' - whatever black celebrity they could put a face to. And about the fourth or fifth time - it must've got quite late, like 11pm - I just said to the boys 'enough's enough, jog on, enjoy your night'.

"That was it. I wasn't rude to them, but I definitely gave them the cold shoulder and I could tell they didn't like it."

Half an hour later, Adam and his partner left the event and walked to a Southwark St location, where they'd left their bikes. However the men that had hassled them earlier were there and spotted them coming.

"As I got close, they turned, pointed and yelled 'let's go lay this c**t out'. I turned around and said 'you can't be talking to me, I don't know you'," he said.

"They were being lads about it, trying to big themselves up and telling us to f**k off and do one.

"But I can't because my bike is right there, and if I've had a problem with these guys and leave my bike I know I'm not going to come back to it in the right condition, and I don't want to leave my girlfriend there with these guys."

Before he was able to make a decision on what to do, Adam says he was struck from behind.

"That's when it all kicked off. The rest of the guys rushed me over, I put myself up against a van so I wouldn't hit the floor. They threw punches and kicks into me and were calling me a dumb N-word, a dirty N-word - generally just shouting the N-word at me."

Adam said his girlfriend then tried to pry the men off him but was caught by a punch to the side of her head.

He managed to push the men away and fought back before bystanders intervened and called the police. The men then ran off in the opposite direction, and Adam too didn't want to be there when the cops showed up, so friends drove him and his girlfriend home.

"I was really, really angry and distraught. A lot had happened within three or four minutes; I had my safety taken from me, my girlfriend had been attacked, my pride had been attacked for being a brown man," he explained.

"I just needed to get into the right space, so I didn't want to hang around for the police, because my emotions and headspace weren't right. I told friends that I felt like I'd have been the one who'd get in trouble because of where my emotions were at."

'Things got quite difficult': The aftermath

After two days of discussion and encouragement from friends and family, Adam decided he would go to the police after all. On Monday, August 3 he handed in a witness statement at Christchurch Central Police Station.

But Adam says the experience was overwhelmingly negative.

"The police weren't that empathetic towards me. The officer I was talking to, it felt like victim-blaming to an extent.

"I understand police have a series of questions to ask to find out the whole truth, but it really felt from his vocabulary and body language that he wasn't buying the situation and thought maybe I had done stuff to bring this situation upon myself.

"It didn't make me very comfortable, and from that point, I'd already started to lose a bit of faith in the system."

Despite his apprehension, Adam handed in his witness statement and told the officer he intended to press charges. He also explained that he wanted the attack to be viewed as a hate crime.

"Beyond the violence, the hate part of it affected me the most. That's how I wanted it to be charged and dealt with."

But the officer allegedly told Adam it would be viewed as a petty assault at best.

After a few days with no update, Adam's girlfriend then went to the police to file a witness statement of her own, which is when things "got quite difficult for us".

"While she's handing in her witness statement, officers told her that I didn't finish handing in my witness statement and that I left the police station saying I didn't want to press charges or pursue an investigation - which is entirely false."

At the same time, Adam's girlfriend says she was being coerced into not handing in a witness statement herself. 

"Police were using language like 'are you sure you want to do this', 'it's a lot of effort and time to take off work to go to court' and things like 'I finish at 6pm, I don't have time to finish off this witness report'."

Another week passed with no update on the investigation so Adam went back to Christchurch Central Police Station to file an official complaint about his treatment. It was then, 15 days after his initial witness statement, that he discovered an officer still hadn't been assigned to the case.

"The investigation hadn't been finished - that's what the police officer at the station told me... she explained it was something she'd never seen before, that it's not common for an investigation to not be assigned to a police officer for that long."

Because there were photographers at the event, Adam and his girlfriend were able to identify several of the alleged attackers, handing their names and photos of them over to police.

But it's now been 26 days since Adam handed in his witness statement, and they're yet to hear any update on the investigation.

'What's the point in the system if it doesn't work?'

Police confirmed to Newshub that they received a report on August 3 of an alleged assault occurring on August 1 at a location on Southwark St.

They said enquiries into the incident are ongoing.

While they wouldn't comment on Adam's experience with officers at Christchurch Central Police Station directly, they explained that the reason the officer disagreed with Adam's characterisation of the assault as a hate crime is likely because no such offence exists in New Zealand.

"'Hate crime' is not a specific, standalone offence. What is commonly referred to as 'hate crime is a standard offence i.e. assault, which has an aggravating feature present in the motivation for the offending," a spokesperson said. 

"Because 'hate crime' is not an offence in and of itself, it is therefore not recorded as a specific offence type by police. However, where staff believe a crime is motivated by hostility, they have the ability to note this in police information systems."

Police say they are now in the process of creating a monitoring system so reported hate crimes such as Adam's would be flagged within its IT systems, to allow timely access to data.

Police insist they take hate crime seriously, but Adam says the experience of him and his girlfriend don't show that.

"I don't feel that police - or maybe it's just that police station - take racism seriously enough... The police aren't that interested in helping us," he said.

"Police are just ignorant to the effects [racism] has. I couldn't tell you whether that specific officer was a racist or not; he seemed like a pleasant bloke but didn't seem to actually give a shit that they were using [racist] language and that their attack came from that place.

"I personally don't believe someone should be able to walk the streets of Christchurch, perform such acts, and not see any consequences for it.

Police told Newshub anyone dissatisfied with the way an incident has been handled by police has the option to make a complaint to the Independent Police Conduct Authority. Adam has done so, and was advised he'd hear back in two to four months' time.

*Adam is not his real name.