4 Suspects Detained

Alice Karis was killed because of pointless violence. Robson Mariki too was killed by pointless violence. And now, a vocal minority of hotheads want to add to it again.

The ten-day mourning period for President Baldwin Lonsdale isn’t even over yet, and we’ve already forgotten the reason we revered him so: He responded to lawlessness, to forceful language and threats, with firmness and a determination that no one is above the law.

No one. Not the man or men who killed Alice, not the man or men who killed Manson. And not the people who condone retaliation, either. Not for any reason.

When are we going to understand that this is not how a just society works? Do we not understand how fragile this fabric is? The moment someone feels they’ve got the right to do violence to another man, we’re no longer a society. All it’s going to take is for a group of people to decide that their rights trump the rule of law for the whole thing to descend into chaos.

If you think this is exaggeration, remember that exactly this kind of thing has happened in every single neighbouring country. Our richer neighbours were able to restore order within days. Solomon Islands only finally ended the RAMSI intervention last week. Ask yourself which end of the spectrum we’ll be on.

Again: There is no excuse for pointless violence. You don’t get the right to punish someone. Ever.

Calls for calm are missing the point. The key to this is not to swallow your anger. That’s not going to happen. The key is to use that fire in your belly to ensure this kind of crap never happens again.

Some of you may be reading this and telling yourselves that only a lily-livered, pearl-clutching kumbayah liberal would say something like this. To which I can proudly answer ‘damn right.’

This lily-livered, pearl-clutching kumbayah liberal has intervened in more than one physical attack and ended it without violence. You just step into the middle and refuse to get out of the way. Then you call the police and do whatever is necessary to make them do their job.

Whatever is necessary. Remember those words. Police inaction is not their problem, it’s ours. The only way the police are going to change is if we make them change. That means getting politics and corruption out of the force. It means holding them to account when they fail to act. That includes filing civil suits and even prosecuting where the law requires it.

It means making law and order a national priority. Australia has dropped nearly a billion vatu into this fight over the last few years, but money isn’t going to help if our hearts aren’t in it.

It means doing the hard yards to understand the challenges we all face. The Stretem Rod Blong Jastis programme has done some excellent work in this regard.

Their report titled Conflict Management and Access to Justice in Rural Vanuatu is an excellent and approachable paper that tells a few key truths.

Police are absurdly under-resourced. The expectations placed on them are beyond what anyone can reasonably expect them to do. But that’s not the whole story.

Why we don’t have cops walking the beat in every neighbourhood is beyond me. This can’t simply be a human resources issue, surely.

But we must not place the entire burden on the police. Neighbourhood patrols are the last piece of the puzzle, not the first. In a report on sexual violence just published this year, we learned that 90% of victims of sexual assault in Vanuatu knew their attackers. Over 60% of them were attacked by members of their own family.

The whole point of community police patrols is that we can hand the people who commit these heinous acts off to them before we go spare on them ourselves.

Studies have shown time and again that the one thing that reduces crime is the likelihood of being caught. It’s not the length of the sentence; it’s not the chance of catching a beating if you do get caught. It’s the odds of your being arrested at all.

As long as someone thinks that rape or spousal abuse is something they’re going to get away with—or worse, that it’s normal, expected behaviour for a man to slap ‘his’ woman around if she displeases him somehow—as long as we’re still dealing with stone-age logic like that, we’ve got a long way to go.

There are no silver bullets here. Lashing out in vengeance is wrong, no matter how righteous the cause. It’s wrong because the harm is only compounded, and vengeance begets more vengeance, as we’ve seen from the hateful, mindless bile spewing onto social media over the weekend.

Our job here is to protect, not to punish. Leave that to the law.

One last word: The report on violent sexual offenders show that more than half of them were men under 30 years of age. This is the same demographic that is responsible for the majority of the angry, vituperative social media comments lashing out against everything BUT the heinous, insidious nature of violence against women.

Violence against women is at the core of these events, and some men are riled up because now the violence is blowing back at them. This is where the change has to start, but answering violence with violence is guaranteed to make it worse, not better.

Stay angry. Resist violence, protect the innocent, but uphold the law.

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