Members of New Zealand's notorious Mongrel Mob and Black Power gangs are looking to trade their switchblades for shears. In July the council of Dunedin City, located on the South Island's east coast, will begin trialling a system where the two gangs can apply for basic community work—such as mowing lawns, trimming hedges, and cutting back foliage.
Since forming in the 60s and 70s, both Mongrel Mob and Black Power have shared a violent rivalry spanning decades. The gangs have been involved in drug trafficking, alleged murder, and robbery—but last year the groups surprised everyone by suddenly making peace. The men then joined forces in a submission to the Dunedin City Council, asking for help in acquiring paid work to support their families.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull told VICE the work trial was a "breakthrough," as it kept the gangs reconciled. "It's remarkable they're working together. They've had a long history of just shooting each other," he said. "But I think they're both beginning to realize that violence won't provide them much of a future anymore."
The proposal was put forward as an employment solution for gang members who were struggling to support their families. Mayor Cull explained that as the men approach their 50s they've found their reputation and appearance have prevented them from finding traditional employment.
Speaking with the NZ Herald Black Power leader Albert Epere said both gangs were trying to integrate themselves back into the community after decades of bloodshed. "It's not about us, it's about our kids," he said. "We've made a path, and now we are trying to change it."
Despite its history of gang violence, the Dunedin community has been accepting of the program. The council's Events and Community Development Manager, Rebecca Williams, told VICE, "Only a few people have called me, and they're just locals who are being cautious." The few public concerns which have been raised were over jobs being taken away from other residents—rather than anxiety over having gang members in their yards.
But the contracts, which include basic gardening tasks, won't be exclusive to members of Black Power and Mongrel Mob. The council states it wants everyone to be able to find a job. "Anyone unemployed can bid for this work," Rebecca says. "We are including the gangs in the trial because they told us they wanted to leave their colored pasts behind, and we want to help."
David Brown, a commercial Landscaping Manager in Dunedin, told VICE that the introduction of gangs mowing lawns wouldn't threaten local business. "At the moment, the work they'll be doing is on too small a scale for it to be a problem," he said, seemingly OK with the scheme. "It'll be interesting to see where it goes though, if they start taking on larger and more important contracts."
In response to concerns that work is being spoon-fed to gang members, the Dunedin City Council said said it will ensure that both Mongrel Mob and Black Power have to meet standard expectations. This includes meeting state health and safety requirements and providing insurance cover like any other commercial landscaping company.
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