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President's Column: Bravery, leadership and aroha triumph over terror

I suspect few New Zealanders will ever forget the horror of March 15, 2019, when the violence we all hoped New Zealand would remain immune from was inflicted upon us with devastating force.

Forever etched on my mind will be the response of New Zealanders, rather than the act of a terrorist.

The brave and heroic actions of the police officers who first responded to the desperate calls for help received by our outstanding comms staff, the ambulance officers who put aside their own safety, the two heroes who arrested the offender and the extraordinary doctors and nurses who saved so many lives.

There was an outpouring of love and support for a minority group of New Zealanders left reeling from this attack. The positive manner in which the country responded has been recognised worldwide.

I am incredibly proud of the response of New Zealand Police, from the leadership of the Commissioner to the constable with just three days’ service standing as a scene guard. Professionalism, respect and empathy were demonstrated by all.

In turn, the Muslim community showed dignity, restraint and compassion, which their fellow Kiwis embraced with pride and aroha.

The view that New Zealand changed that day is true, but it is how we have changed that has been of most significance – reflected in a response that triumphed over the actions of one hate-fuelled individual.

The prime minister set the tone with her mix of steel, compassion and genuine sorrow demonstrated throughout this ordeal.

Her Government has made a courageous start with immediate and meaningful gun reform.

We, too, can make changes for the better, no matter how small they may seem.

I challenge us all to reflect on the casual racism that is part of New Zealand. We can all make an effort to engage with members of the myriad nationalities and religions that make up our country.

We can all do better than laugh at a joke that is offensive rather than funny, than use unpleasant or derogatory names to describe different races or religions, than agreeing with stereotypes that deep down we know are not accurate.

If we each make a conscious decision to refrain from this behaviour and call it out when we witness it, we break down the barriers to inclusiveness.

Challenging hate speech or hateful actions reduces the chance of a repeat of the thinking and behaviour that led to this tragedy.

As members of the police family, you can all be very proud of how we responded on the 15th of March. New Zealand Police made the worst of times a little bit better that day and again demonstrated how lucky New Zealand is to have the best police service in the world.

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