“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress." – Martin Luther King Jr.
Tonight, I read a story about a young father (a former professional rugby player) in South Africa whose young daughter was allegedly gang raped and infected with HIV. Over the following several days, the father stalked 4 of the allegedly rapists and killed 3 of them (a couple of them by decapitation).
Vigilante justice strikes a common cord with people across the world. Each culture has their vigilante hero who goes where government can’t. In literature, film, and oral story telling, we have stories of much beloved characters like Robin Hood and Batman. Men/women not bound by the words of the law or the restriction of the government.
According to a United Nations study, South Africa has more rapes per capita than anywhere in the world. 25% of their men admit to committing rape. 50% are repeat offenders. Most commit their first rape in their teens. Child and infant rape is at some of the highest rates in the world. South Africa has been criticized universally for generations for being lax on crime.
In a society where government doesn’t protect the people, what is a father to do when his young daughter has been emotionally and physically brutalized and left with an incurable fatal disease? Violence is such an easy and immediate answer. It may have even satisfied the father’s sense of justice. Yet the daughter is now robbed of her father. She will bear her emotional and physical scars without her father to help shoulder the burden.
This isn’t merely a South African problem, but it’s a problem faced by all cultures that tolerate crime to the point that their own people stop believing that justice will be served. Isn’t that the same root of terrorism? People stop believing in government, blame the government for what they believe to be injustice, and then take the problem into their own hands.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saw decades ago what people still fail to see now. Social progress is stunted when law and order fails. How do we improve as a country when those who do the most damage fail to be punished?
During this current recession, law and order has certainly failed us. White collar criminals like Bernie Madoff will never see a punishment to fit the crime of destroying the lives of people who trusted him. Sub prime creditors will never be punished for how they exploited the American public. The automotive industry will never be punished for putting out gas guzzling SUVs, trucks, and cars when technology clearly existed for improved mileage. They stood pat, put out a bad product, hike up the demand for oil, and went into bankruptcy when their poor product couldn’t hang in balance with higher oil prices. Credit card companies, banks, accounting firms, etc. who have played the "game” for decades have artificially raised the expectations of the people of the United States while bankrupting their future.
The United States has failed in different ways than the countries currently in uprising turmoil, but nonetheless has failed the people just like those other countries did. We thankfully have a democratic method of recourse in which we can just vote for someone else. Yet, we only have 2 parties. We continually re-elect incumbents. Every candidate seems cookie cutter. They make cookie cutter promises and all fail the same way. They even hire the same cookie cutter campaign staff and managers as previous candidates.
Are we that different? When do we snap? When do we become the South African father? When do we become Egyptian protesters or Libyan rebels? Does it have to come to that?