Did you read the story about the 23-year-old British student that was arrested for having sweet non-consensual sex with a sheep? He reportedly told the police he only planned to beat up the sheep to let off some exam pressure (but the sheep turned out to be a deviously sexy flirt, we assume). Did you also read about 37-year-old Balak Ram who hurriedly got married to a 29-year-old lady only to discover s/he was a disguised 15-year-old boy one week later on nuptial night?
If I didn’t know better, I’d say the media is a news machine designed to force open our jaws and stomp on them on greasy floors as we joylessly come to grips with the realisation that our world might be slipping into total uncontrollable chaos (which is how the world’s always been when you really think about it). The media reports what the world is up to; and because crazy bad news sells more than ones that’ll leave us in the right kind of stitches, we’re mired deep in stories that gradually make us lose faith in the continued existence of humanity.
So I was scanning through my Facebook page on a stormy November night (it was really a stormy November night, you guys) when I saw a CNN news story on my news feed; a 36-year-old Indian man had invited his 45-year-old medical supplier neighbour to a nice dinner, and afterwards proceeded to burn “his genitals with hot tongs”, before strangling him to death. The neighbour had allegedly raped his 14-year-old daughter two months prior.
If your thoughts transitioned from, “OMG! Humans are so vile; I can’t believe anyone can be so evil to another human being!” when I first highlighted the story, to, “Oh? Then that piece of garbage deserved that treatment. I would have totally done the same thing. Give that man a medal, probably!” when you discovered the victim was a pedophile rapist, then you’re just like the 99% of the people in the comments section of that story. And it (probably) won’t make you a bad person to harbor that thought; we love it when bad people get their just due. But is this line of justice to be encouraged in any capacity?
Before you answer that question (which you probably already have, because it was one entire sentence ago), you have to realise that this one incident is a window into a bigger culture of a self-styled jungle justice system. It is the representation of a system of instant judgement carried out by self-appointed jury and executioners who punish their victims as they deem fit.
To paint a more vivid picture, consider the tragedy that was the ALUU 4 killings when a mob infamously stripped four students of the University of Port Harcourt, battered and burned them to death for alleged theft. It was an incident that drew the ire of the Nigerian public for as long as its attention span allowed it for its barbaric and vile nature. It was an act that had no place in a civilised society, to quote a Yoruba adage, “in a town with a king and chiefs”.
One might suspect that the reason we cannot definitively condemn the act of jungle justice is that for every erroneously meted justice, there’s another we can unashamedly rally behind; like that Indian mob that castrated a rapist in October. However, this is still not an escape sound enough to overshadow the banality of this process even when it “gets things right”, especially for the numerous other times it gets them dismally wrong.
Reasons for why this sore thumb still sticks out in our very modern society abound from our primitive urge for self-gratification to our burning immediate want for justice. We want to believe ourselves to be the moral pivot of our environment who’ll punish contaminants of that environment to serve as deterrent to others, you know, like that Kenyan mob that stripped a lady in public for indecent dressing; or that American that shot up a car full of teenagers for playing loud “thug” music; both subjective ‘crimes’. In the heat of those moments, people tend to let themselves go and ignore the fact that there is a system in place to deal with whatever grievances you have with your neighbours having loud sex when you’re trying to stay away from internet porn; but that seems to be another major reason for the problem: lack of faith in the system.
In a poll conducted by NOI Polls Ltd., 51% of respondents attributed the prevalence of jungle justice to a lack of trust in law enforcement agencies. This mistrust isn’t entirely unfounded as criminals have been known to play the system and walk scot free; sometimes, it just feels like the system is ill-equipped to appropriately and satisfyingly deal with flouters of the law. So, for the same reasons why we think we could write a better Green Lantern movie than Michael Goldenberg, we think we can do a better job of bringing criminals to their well-deserved punishments; give karma a little nudge in the right direction, without all the inconvenient red tapes holding the law back.
Or maybe this is the right path to tread. Maybe we have got this whole organisation thing screwed wrong; maybe self-styled jungle justice is the way to go; maybe the law is too soft in its handling of criminals and it needs regular Joes to rid the world of vermin; maybe we should scrape that part of order in our society and dole out punishments on our own as we make up rules and punishments for ourselves (I’ve got a couple of people I might have a problem with, if they don’t get to me first).
(Un)fortunately, as flawed as the judicial system is/may be, the jungle justice system is just as diabolical. The recent post-humus ‘acquittal’ of 14-year-old George Stinney seventy odd years after he was electrocuted in an electric chair for killing two girls, a crime he did not commit, is an indictment of the whole judicial system from top to bottom. However, if the system, with all of its red tapes can make fatal mistakes like that, does it not make you cringe to think about how fatally wrong jungle justice can potentially be, especially since rules are made up on the fly? And then, there’s this other thing where the law punishes you for doing its job for it no matter how honourable your intentions/reasons are. That Indian man might win Father of the Year, but he is also facing murder charges that might mean he’ll be in jail for a long time, depriving his family of an important figure to help them pull through what must be truly difficult times. The truth is we’d all like to be Liam Neeson, cutting down a neighbourhood of thugs because they broke a social contract, whether they knew they were doing so or not; but the Taken universe is not a fair reflection of how our society works as there are blowbacks for our actions no matter how great our intentions; like how Kevin Bacon put his entire family into even more grave danger after avenging the ritual murder of his son in Death Sentence.
My sincere sympathies are with that unnamed Indian man and I (or possibly anyone, for that matter) cannot pretend to know or understand how he felt (and hope to never be in a position to find out), but jungle justice is a very dangerous path to tread. Our society is set up against it because it would most likely collapse otherwise. My sympathies cannot do anything to help his situation, but his lawyers have a chance to get him off the hook in court; a chance his victim (or any other victims of jungle justice, criminal or not) never got. If there was no system, the victim’s family would probably come after him too, baying for blood regardless of the victim’s (probably) deserved comeuppance; imagine how that would end: an unending circle of vengeful bloodbaths (which is the general idea of the first Taken sequel). That doesn’t sound like a world that’ll last.