the escalation of atrocious crimes
It is becoming commonplace nowadays to be confronted almost on a daily basis with one or other atrocious crime committed locally. This paper has on several occasions drawn attention to the seriousness of this issue in the context of the perception of the security aspect of the country. We have also pointed out to a possible serious degradation of social norms likely to accelerate in the downward direction unless effective action was taken to hold the escalation of crime in check. What we see however is that there is no stopping sign to this scourge that appears to have firmly taken hold of society for various reasons. We cannot afford to go further down this road.
The usual thing here has been to point an accusing finger at the authorities to suggest that they would not be doing enough. The ritual also consists of asking parliamentary questions in a bid to establish that crime has escalated. The typical response of several governments in power has been to come out with statistics to show that the rate of crime would be comparably lower compared with some period or other. With due respect, all this is an exercise in futility. Can a reasonable person work under the assumption that an official can be present at every potential scene of crime beforehand so as to ward off the crime? Crimes take place precisely because such external preventive factors are absent and it is virtually impossible to have a full time surveillance system in place for crime prevention. Even in places such as Flic en Flac where a 24-hour CCTV system has apparently brought down the crime rate successfully, it is quite possible that the crime may simply have got displaced to another less protected location. Even if there is a case for maintaining a relentless surveillance of ill-reputed locations, one cannot install devices for Big Brother to keep a watch over all the ins-and-outs of every place.
The deterrence factor, notably by spotting and punishing crime with different degrees of severity, is however only part of the solution to the escalation of crime in society. There has taken place a change of mentality which has facilitated the commission of violent crimes the latest of which surpasses in terms of violence and atrocity the last known such crimes. We are fortunately not in the situations of certain other countries where scores of people are killed in the name of all sorts of vindications on a daily basis. However, the information pertaining to those events is being ventilated on a daily basis to our citizens some of whom could have come to the conclusion that the taking-away of lives is a routine matter. Children are exposed in video games and other social networks to the display of all sorts of hitherto unknown crimes which trivialize life. These virtual displays of life-and-death situations become like self-fulfilling prophecies when the least provocation becomes an occasion for the protagonists to re-enact scenes that have been evoked in the various media. It is almost impossible in this information age to censure and prevent access to media features which consider it a premium shot for themselves to be the first to broadcast novel ways of committing crimes or flash out exceptionally violent crimes.
We are therefore living in conditions where the government’s machinery for crime-and-punishment, the media’s allegedly daily dissuasive displays of heinous crimes committed and the moral grandstanding and standard-setting practices of socio-religious bodies are, collectively, failing to reverse a binge of criminality that has taken hold of society. From the examples we see displayed every day, it is evident that the conscience which in the past managed to prevent the escalation of crime through increasing self-control and/or putting to shame trespassers of social norms, no longer prevails. Something which used to keep the related misbehaviours under control has evidently given way.
Those who indulge in the exceptional criminal behaviour currently may be people who have theft and burglary as their routine occupation. They may be organising themselves in gangs the better to overpower their victims without hesitating to use ultimate violence at the least resistance. There are also those who do not have enough resources to “make both ends meet”. These include persons who habitually take drugs or customarily live beyond their means but are faced with increasingly higher outlays to make for securing the doses on which they are dependent or the nice treatments they like to indulge in. They have recourse to violence to supplement their ordinary resources where they have reached the point of being totally unable to engage in any gainful employment except thieving and even killing, if necessary. As confirmation that this is actually the case, we find that drugs are continuing to flow into the country and over-indebtedness of households is becoming more commonplace than ever before. But there is also violence among people of close proximity. Family disputes and partnering in sexual relationships outside marriage or even within marriage giving rise to the most unimaginable crimes in these milieus are becoming common.
The growth of crimes due to a proliferation of looser values than what obtained in the past is a phenomenon that cannot be tackled by a single power base acting alone. You cannot hope to get rid of it simply by changing the prison administrator, toughening up sentencing or by installing cameras acting as deterrents to potential criminals. Religious and dogmatic preaching will also not tackle the problem for the simple reason that those who indulge in atrocious crimes go to all places except where such socio-cultural activities are undertaken in the presence of the converted. There are limits therefore on the extent to which such stakeholders in society can serve “à limiter la casse” in a frozen social framework providing all sorts of prejudices and adulations depending on where you belong to.
In social models like Singapore where repression of crime has been practised all the time without let or hindrance in an otherwise submissive and obedient social framework, along with providing gainful employment opportunities to nearly one and all in well entrenched protective family circles, the crime factor has been severely curtailed. In societies like Europe, a fundamental notion of self-governance has been inculcated at all levels from pre-primary to tertiary levels; this kind of self-respecting grooming up has acted to lower the crime rate as well as the escalation of criminal behaviour. In basically corrupt societies where the top brass itself will stoop before anything to get to its corrupt ends, crime and its perpetration has become a lifestyle.
It is not too late for us to make a choice of the type of society in which we want to live. We need not go to extremes. We can make a decision to stick to some basic but comprehensive principles of rule-of-law instead of simply paying lip service to this concept as it suits our convenience. Any departure from such consensual pre-agreed and established norms in this context by anybody from any social sub-group should invite universal condemnation and prompt action for it to be effective as an instrument to ward off any escalation of the observed criminal behaviour.
Not doing anything radical is tantamount to continue losing our grips on social misbehaviour and we do not really know where that is going to end finally. Already, it is becoming increasingly difficult to carry the burden of daily atrocious crimes committed for the most trivial of reasons. Time is therefore not playing in our favour and it would be the occasion for a really select group of pragmatic persons to sit down, analyse the situation, recommend and implement actions before things become fully irrecoverable. Let us throw out this ugly game of casting the blame on one actor or other in the social setup and introduce instead a result-yielding framework to tackle a problem that is gradually getting out of hands.
* Published in print edition on 10 June 2011