Who’re we to mete out street justice?

There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice.

– Montesquieu, French philosopher

I was disturbed by a news report in the New Sarawak Tribune yesterday about a shoplifter who was caught by workers of a grocery store in Miri and tied to a pole.

The report said the workers made a citizen’s arrest after the man allegedly stole chocolates worth nearly RM40.

While waiting to surrender him to the police, the staff tied the poor fella to a lamp post near the store. As if that wasn’t humiliating enough, they placed a piece of cardboard around his neck with the words, “I am a thief.”

I am not sure whether people these days are acting out of frustration and taking the law into their own hands — because crimes are now commonplace or because the agencies that are supposed to keep criminals in check are not doing enough to protect us!

Anyway, it’s not known why the shoplifter, aged 21, stole the chocolates; perhaps he was hungry, or perhaps he had wanted to give them to his starving family members. We’ll not know until police have completed their investigation.

The young man can consider himself fortunate for not being beaten up by the staff or the public, unlike an incident which I witnessed in a video on Facebook some time ago.

In the incident six years ago, some members of the public in Kuala Lumpur beat up a snatch thief mercilessly. The latter was begging for mercy and pleaded to be surrendered to the police.

The video which was uploaded on the Malaysian Crime Awareness Campaign’s Facebook page, showed a young man being dragged towards the female victim, bashed up and questioned by some men. They continued to beat him up and tied his hands behind his back.

“Look at what you have done,” one of the men was heard saying, following the statement with a kick to the alleged criminal’s head.

The poor young man’s head and face were bloodied and he was heard begging to be sent to the police station.

Hantar saya ke balai, bang (Send me to the police station, brother),” he pleaded repeatedly but the men ignored him

I felt pity for him. Yes, he committed a crime. But who are we to deliver street justice?

But most of the Facebook netizens who responded to the clip did not sympathise with the snatch thief and instead said he deserved the treatment.

Shocking! Have we become so heartless? Who are we to administer street justice?

The Collins dictionary defines ‘street justice’ as a punishment given by members of the public to people regarded as criminals or wrongdoers.

I remember reading another news about some villagers lynching a truck driver after his vehicle ran over and killed a two-year-old boy in an Indian district in 2018.

The incident occurred near the victim’s house when he was walking on the road with his sister. Villagers wasted no time in catching the driver and beating him to death.

Another case of street justice.

Have we lost all sense of human decency? Don’t we have any respect at all for the law?

Of course, criminals and wrongdoers deserve to be punished. I am not saying they shouldn’t. But leave it to the police and the courts to dispense justice.

We are a rational society, and as law-abiding citizens we have to respect the due process of justice. But lately we have some people meting out street justice against anyone caught committing a crime.

We take delight in playing judge and executioner.  We are sending the wrong message that we can take the law into our own hands. We are encouraging mob justice.

Malaysians are supposed to have compassion; we are known to be kind and caring. What’s happening to us?

I heard a colleague say that people have no choice as the police and the courts are no longer reliable or are slow to punish criminals. Hence the need to take action first before handing the wrongdoers to the police.

Pitiful excuse, brother! It all boils down to our disrespect for the law — even if we argue that our intentions are good, which is to protect ourselves from the crooks.

Society will suffer if we were to play the roles of judge and executioner. Have faith in our law enforcers and the judiciary.