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New Zealand Leaders Reconsider Arming Police In The Wake Of George Floyd's Killing

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

New Zealand is about as far in miles as you can get from Minneapolis, but protests there have erupted over the killing of George Floyd.

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UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: Those are protesters performing a haka, an expression of the indigenous Maori people. The Maori have taken this moment to push back against police use of force. Gregory Warner of our Rough Translation podcast explains.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Police in New Zealand don't carry firearms on their person. This goes back to a British tradition from the 19th century to avoid a police force that's too much like a military. But then, last year in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, a white nationalist entered two mosques during Friday prayers and shot and killed 51 people. Police introduced a pilot program. They'd send armed police teams on patrol to respond more quickly to violent crimes. Julia Amua Whaipooti is a lawyer and activist for the Maori people.

JULIA AMUA WHAIPOOTI: They are patrolling with militaristic vehicles in three communities, two of which are predominantly Maori and Pacific communities. It's predominantly brown communities.

WARNER: Even though the perpetrator who inspired these new rules was white.

AMUA WHAIPOOTI: They said, oh, it was for everyone's safety and would only be used in extreme cases. By February, the majority of their work involved pulling over people for routine traffic stops.

WARNER: Maori and Pacific people make up about 25% of the New Zealand population, but they bear the brunt of police use of force.

AMUA WHAIPOOTI: So if we put guns on their hands as well to interact with us, that's going to mean lives. And so many of us had been drawing parallels to the United States in the sense that we are on the precipice of heading towards an Americanization of our policing.

WARNER: The police association defended the program, saying no officer fired a single shot during the six-month pilot. But in the days after the death of George Floyd, protesters took to the streets. And the hashtag #ArmsDownNewZealand trended to number one on New Zealand Twitter. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she opposed the routine arming of police. This week, the police commissioner, Andrew Coster, announced he's not extending the pilot program. He said he's committed to keeping New Zealand cops unarmed. Whaipooti says their campaign may not have succeeded without the U.S. protests.

AMUA WHAIPOOTI: So that the power and impact of George Floyd, whose life was stolen so violently and so brutally, the legacy of him, of what he symbolizes to me - I owe a big duty to that man because that means he's saved lives of Maori people in this country.

WARNER: She added, she also felt sad that it took the tragic killing of George Floyd to win so much local support for her cause.

SHAPIRO: That's Gregory Warner, host of NPR's Rough Translation podcast. Today a new episode is out that looks at George Floyd's emerging international legacy.

(SOUNDBITE OF THIS WILL DESTROY YOU'S "QUIET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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