Sunday, December 11, 2005

Mob behaving like a mob

There's a reason why we rely on our police forces to enforce the law, rather than just letting mobs of vigilante's roam around meting out punishment as they see fit, to who they see fit. It's because mob behaviour is prone to punishing the nearest available target, rather than going to the trouble of finding the culprit of the original offence. They also have a tendency to mete out punishment far in excess of what we'd consider appropriate to the offence.

But what happens when a large enough number of people feel that the police either aren't willing or aren't able to enforce the law? We then you get scenes like were seen in Cronulla, where people will take the law into their own hands, without much regard for the letter of the law. Whatever the realities of police efforts against the lebanese muslim gangs, there is undeniably a feeling within sections of the community that the law isn't being applied the same to everyone, and that the police aren't making the same effort to protect some sections of the community as they are others. I doubt this was helped when the police stated during the week that they would crack down those who were planning on "taking back the beach", despite not being seen to be making an effort to crack down on the gangs that had committed the earlier attacks.

If the media has any blame it's not for reporting stories that may have fuelled anger, but for not reporting stories, and for only partially reporting the details. Maybe they reduce the chance of payback attacks by report offenders as "person of middle eastern appearance" or "youths of specific ethnic origin" (or as they most often do, make no mention at all), but in doing so they help to hide the problem, rather than exposing it so that something might get done. When enough people have been on the receiving end, media reports that deliberately avoid naming the perpetrators make things worse.