Rawiri Waititi lashes out at Prime Minister, Christopher Luxon, media over commentary around death of gang leader

"Keep my iwi out of your mouth."
"Keep my iwi out of your mouth." Photo credit: Newshub & Facebook - Rawiri Waititi

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi has hit out at the Prime Minister, Christopher Luxon and the media over commentary around the death of a gang leader in Ōpōtiki. 

Police have launched a homicide investigation into the death of Ōpōtiki's local Mongrel Mob Barbarians president Steven Taiatini. 

On Wednesday Taiatini's funeral took place which saw an increase in patched gang members and police.

Police said they were "out in large numbers" as his funeral procession descended on the Bay of Plenty town. 

But late on Wednesday night Waiariki MP Waititi had "something on my chest I need to get off" in a Facebook livestream. 

"What is not helping are the comments being made by political leaders and political parties and right now Christopher Luxon, Chris Hipkins need to shut their mouths and stop using our iwi as a political football to score points," he said. 

Waititi said the local iwi, Te Whakatōhea, are doing "their best to de-escalate the situation that has unfolded over the past three days". 

"They've been working really, really hard as a community, as an iwi, as a hāpu," he said. 

"Working with the council, police, social services to support our whanau and our community at this particular time."

But the Te Pāti Māori co-leader says Hipkins and Luxon "have no business whatsoever" to make comments on matters he believes "they know nothing about".

"Keep my iwi out of your mouth."

Waititi said both political leaders "know nothing about Te Whakatōhea, you know nothing about the situation, you certainly know nothing about our people, our whanau, our hāpu, our iwi members who also happen to be affiliated to the gangs".

He said political leaders should instead offer support to ensure Te Whakatōhea can continue the work they do in the community. 

"That's the priority right now, not political point scoring, you do not have the licence to use our people as a political football," Waititi said.  

"You never did and you do not right now."

Politicians commentary: 

Prime Minister Hipkins has primarily made comments on the funeral and gang tensions in Ōpōtiki when asked by media. 

On Tuesday Hipkins told AM it's not an "acceptable situation" in Ōpōtiki's community.

"I'm backing the police here. I think they've got a tough job ahead of them, they need to do that job, and the community needs to back them to do that," Hipkins said on Tuesday. 

On the same day, Christopher Luxon said, "Right now a town in New Zealand has been overtaken by a gang" in a Facebook post.

"Schools are closed. Public transport has been cancelled. And Chris Hipkins’ response? It’s not his job to deal with crime.

"The people in Ōpōtiki are living in fear due to gang tension. They deserve better. They deserve leadership. National will get tough on crime and restore law and order."

On Wednesday, Luxon was asked about the gang presence in Ōpōtiki and told Breakfast the Government does not have the situation "under control".

"Why on earth do parents and students just trying to go about their daily business have to be inconvenienced because gangs have come to town for a week."

ACT leader David Seymour took to Facebook to weigh in on the situation too.

"The town of Ōpōtiki has become the latest epicentre of gang tension after one gang member murdered another on Friday," Seymour claimed, though police have not confirmed this. 

"Luxon and Hipkins have both called it 'unacceptable', but what’s been seen in Ōpōtiki over the past four days has been despicable," he said.

Waititi questioned the last time political leaders were in Ōpōtiki and the last time they spoke with people in the area of Te Whakatōhea. 

"I know for a fact that none of you have shown up. I know for a fact that none of you will turn up, but you will continue to talk about my iwi, our iwi. Please be respectful at this particular time as our community mourns their loved one."

The Māori party co-leader hit out at the media's coverage of Taiatini's death and funeral, saying the community does not need stories by the media to "escalate the situation".

"We need you to be right, we need you to do right by our people of Whakatōhea and Ōpōtiki," he said. 

"We do not need you to be making headlines, we don't need your tabloid-type media approach to this particular situation, we don't need you to be adding fuel to the fire."