The anger that people feel at being robbed or violated is understandable. People feel violated when they lose something forcibly. It is not simply the loss. It is the indignity and injustice of someone unlawfully depriving you of what you own. It amounts to an act of violation; this triggers the anger and the hurt.
Most citizens can empathise with such feelings and abhor criminal behaviour. This explains why, very often, whenever a criminal is caught, in a community, there is hardly any sympathy for that criminal.
An offence against one member of the community is often viewed as an assault against the entire community, leading to the exaction of justice and retribution.
Many thieves have received a severe thrashing at the hands of members of the community, outraged over the violation of their community. Often, it is the arrival of the police that saves the criminals from further punishment.
There has been, over the years, a moral acceptance of these forms of justice. There are hardly any voices of dissent raised over these beatings, and even the police have been known not to vigorously pursue charges against those who are involved in beating criminals caught stealing in neighbourhoods.
Beating criminals is, however, at odds with the law, which provides for penalties for all forms of assault, even assault of the most depraved of criminals. A respect for human rights also shows no discrimination between the guilty and innocent.
The exaction of justice is thus best left to the law enforcement and judicial authorities. Persons guilty of crimes should be placed before the courts and be allowed to face the consequences. Citizens should not take the law into their own hands.
Unfortunately, in the case of people caught stealing within communities, this principle is often observed in the breach, to the extent that most citizens now feel that there is nothing wrong with them giving a thrashing to someone caught stealing from one of their members.
In most cases, the outcome of these exchanges is not too serious, and thus the authorities have generally turned a blind eye, since they, too, understand what it feels like to be unlawfully deprived of what you own.
There is also a general dislike and disdain for criminals, who are not viewed with much sympathy. The police, therefore, hardly press charges against the person(s) involved in the beating of criminals.
There are times, however, when the punishment exacted goes too far.
In one case many years ago, a thief was tied to a lamp post and beaten to death. No charges were laid against anyone, thereby further reinforcing the view that citizens are free to beat criminals caught committing crimes in their neighbourhoods.
Many young people have grown up with the belief that, so long as a person has been caught committing a criminal offence, there is nothing wrong with beating that person to a pulp.
This is what many persons of the present generation have grown up to believe, a belief that has been reinforced by the sanction that the public gives to such actions, and the blind eye that is turned by the authorities whenever criminals are at the receiving end.
Ignorance, they say, is no excuse for breaking the law; but more important than that is breaking the ignorance of the law. All citizens should know what is permissible and what is not.
It is time that the public is sensitised and re-oriented as to the approved methods of dealing with persons caught committing criminal acts in communities. Otherwise, we will end up in a situation where innocent citizens who feel that they are serving the interest of justice within their communities find themselves facing the wrath of the law, instead of being praised for ensuring that their communities are kept safely.
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