Mur­ders show vig­i­lan­tism de­mands vig­i­lance OP-ED-E

Viet Nam News - - NATIONAL - Thu Vaân

It was the stuff of ac­tion mov ies. Five un­armed men stepped in to foil a group of armed thieves as they were try­ing to un­lock and steal a mo­tor­bike.

A vi­o­lent scuf­fle broke out, but, un­like in most movies, the heroes did not emerge win­ners, scathed or un­scathed.

Two of the do-good­ers were killed and three oth­ers were se­ri­ously in­jured in the tragedy that oc­curred in HCM City last Sun­day.

The cops quickly ap­pre­hended the thieves/mur­der­ers, but Nguyeãn Hoaøng Nam, 29 and Nguyeãn Vaên Thoâi, 42, died on the spot. The other three, dubbed the “Taân Bình Dis­trict Knights,” were rushed to hos­pi­tal in crit­i­cal con­di­tion.

These were not po­lice­men or sol­diers who died in the line of duty. They were “or­di­nary” cit­i­zens will­ing to put their lives on the line in or­der to fight the na­tional scourge of crime.

Trib­utes, com­mis­er­a­tions and praise have flowed in for the two men who lost their lives and their in­jured com­rades.

They are not the first peo­ple who have won the hearts of cit­i­zens for be­ing good Sa­mar­i­tans.

Over the last few decades, many mo­tor­bike taxis and oth­ers in HCM City have stood up against crim­i­nals and helped vic­tims of rob­beries, and the term “street knights” has en­tered the lo­cal lex­i­con.

Un­armed and un­paid, these knights in shin­ing ar­mors may have cap­tured the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion with their brav­ery and sac­ri­fice, but the last thing we should do is to ro­man­ti­cise such deeds and ig­nore the real malaise that needs real, far-reach­ing solutions.

That does not seem to be hap­pen­ing now.

As Nam and Thoâi’s fam­i­lies mourned their loved ones’ death, au­thor­i­ties and the com­mu­nity have pro­claimed them “mar­tyrs” and col­lected money from the pub­lic to of­fer some sup­port.

It is a sit­u­a­tion where poignancy is writ large, but we have to ask a very harsh ques­tion: Was it worth it, re­ally?

The death of Nam and Thoâi re­minded me of a story I read in the New York Times last month. Floyd H. Hall, res­i­dent of An­chor­age city in Alaska, the US, has been spend­ing his spare time re­triev­ing stolen cars, not wait­ing for the po­lice or other au­thor­i­ties to deal with a sud­den wave of rob­beries. His work has oc­ca­sion­ally an­noyed lo­cal po­lice, but Hall has de­vel­oped a fan fol­low­ing.

Justin Doll, the An­chor­age po­lice chief, said he sup­ports cit­i­zen ac­tivism like neigh­bor­hood watch, but warned of the dan­gers in­volved.

“What I would en­cour­age Floyd or any­body to do is to con­tinue to be ac­tive, be a voice for pub­lic safety. But when crime ac­tu­ally hap­pens, let us deal with it,” Doll was quoted by the New York Times as say­ing.

The vig­i­lantes are not im­pressed by this ar­gu­ment, ap­par­ently.

Kieân Hoaøng, a mem­ber of the Taân BÌnh Dis­trict knights, said all mem­bers of the team were well aware of the dan­gers they face, but they couldn’t just “stand and watch heart­lessly.”

Thoâi’s son, who is only 10 years old, said he wanted to be­come a “knight” like his fa­ther when he grew up.

I have not been able to stop think­ing about this wish of a child who does not fully un­der­stand the “knight­hood” that has been con­ferred on his un­for­tu­nate fa­ther.

While there can be no reser­va­tions in ad­mir­ing and ap­pre­ci­at­ing those demon­strat­ing that they care in such cyn­i­cal times, the only way to make sure that such care for the com­mu­nity is not trag­i­cally wasted is to study this is­sue dis­pas­sion­ately.

Most street knights in HCM City and other south­ern prov­inces are those who face many dif­fi­cul­ties in their daily lives and don’t earn much. In this con­text, their will­ing­ness to con­trib­ute vol­un­tar­ily to their com­mu­nity car­ries even greater value, and au­thor­i­ties are sure to ap­pre­ci­ate such sup­port.

But this con­tri­bu­tion and sac­ri­fice is not some­thing that we should take for granted, and we should draw a line at the lengths to which this is taken.

Los­ing lives in or­der to main­tain law and or­der crosses that line.

The knights can help catch crim­i­nals, pro­vide in­for­ma­tion, clues and ev­i­dence to the au­thor­i­ties. They can film, take pho­to­graphs and en­gage in such ac­tions to fa­cil­i­tate the task of the au­thor­i­ties, but rush­ing to wres­tle with armed crim­i­nals is not a wise course of ac­tion. Such ac­tion can not only cause griev­ous harm to the vig­i­lantes, oth­ers can also get caught in the cross­fire.

I do hope the death of Nam and Thoâi serves as a wake-up call for all of us, in­clud­ing the po­lice force. The choice they made and the brav­ery they dis­played is noth­ing short of heroic, but no so­ci­ety should de­mand such sac­ri­fices of its mem­bers. Their deaths re­flect badly on all of us.

Now, we have a choice to make. We can make the ef­fort to find out why such vig­i­lan­tism has be­come nec­es­sary or we can ig­nore this task and take the easy way out by pay­ing hand­some emo­tional and other forms of trib­ute.

There are struc­tural rea­sons be­hind rising crime. Both au­thor­i­ties and the gen­eral pub­lic should take the trou­ble to study this. Crime is a law and or­der prob­lem, but it does not hap­pen in a vac­uum. What are the fac­tors that lead to rising crime in a so­ci­ety?

How have our poli­cies and in­sti­tu­tions failed in iden­ti­fy­ing and deal­ing with these fac­tors?

Com­mon sense says rising poverty, in­se­cu­rity, in­equal­ity, job­less­ness and vul­ner­a­bil­ity can be fun­da­men­tal fac­tors in in­still­ing frus­tra­tion among the peo­ple, and push them to­wards crime.

To be­come a “mod­ern, pros­per­ous, civ­i­lized so­ci­ety,” all cit­i­zens need to be vigilant, but we need to do away with the need for vig­i­lan­tism. — VNS

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