It is indeed a frightening scenario when we have individuals and groups – not only youths – carrying knives with them and are not afraid to use them to resolve any differences.
The Singaporean media has done a good job to bring greater awareness to gang-related violence (just like they are actually doing a decent job raising the profile of local athletes for the past 18 months [see Youth Olympic Games]).
A very recent case of a slashing at Ang Mo Kio central, where my friends and I used to occasionally hang out and have dinner, has stoked debate as to whether the sale of knives has to be regulated.
In another case that has contested for our attention, other than the forever-impending General Elections, Jonathan Wong has put Singapore in the limelight for the wrong reasons – possession of child pornography. And suddenly the opinions of psychiatrists and psychologists are emphasised to be really really important (and helpful).
Child pornography is generally socially unacceptable, outright legally wrong, and in most discourses, morally wrong. The media will be milking Jonathan's story for all its worth – bright scholar with dark side *insert puns and wisecracks*. It is a horrible mistake to make, and highly condemnable considering he's playing a role in the problem that is the child pornography trade - driving demand and driving supply for it.
Child pornography is deemed a serious crime (and cybercrime) and we have governments and international agencies (like Interpol) working really hard, spending time and resources to put an end to it.
Consumers of child pornography are heavily punished as a deterrent. The suppliers of child pornography – film-makers, producers, distributors etc. – are also being hunted down to put an end to the exploitation of children. Governments are doing what they can to reevaluate (not change, because “change” is a scary thing for any incumbent) their policies that concern age of consent, and protection of children and minors – however they are defined. At the same time, there are campaigns to educate and empower the relevant stakeholders possibly affected by child pornography.
What the suggested regulation of the sale of knives and the ongoing concerted efforts to tackle child pornography have in common is that while they are aimed at solving an identifiable set of problems we have at hand, they do not spend an equal amount of time and resources (or more) into making changes to the contexts from which these problems derive.
For the suggested regulation of the sale of knives in Singapore, coupled with the stepping up of police patrols, it is indicative of the effort, money and resources being spent into putting an end of gang violence, and possibly gangs (or assemblies) with the capacity for crime and violence.
But is the same amount of effort, money and resources being spent on policies and education to prevent youths from being in the “wrong” company?
An individual would eventually find himself/herself in a gang capable of crime and violence, because of a host of socio-economic issues – lack of or poor parenting, “negative” peer influence, lack of job opportunities, “negative” reinforcement from school environments and authority figures, lack of the presence of or access to “positive” role-models, boredom, disenfranchisement, disillusionment (nothing to live for), etc.
These items exist in the same socio-political and economic realm we inhabit. The privileged have more choices; the not-so-privileged (you don’t have to be financially poor to be one) have fewer choices. Because of certain social circumstances, individuals are coerced into stepping beyond the boundaries of what is legally right.
In view of the abovementioned host of possible reasons for youth criminality/delinquency, it appears that the idea of regulating the sale of knives does not really solve the problem and might be the easy way out for the government to appear to take responsibility to make society a better place.
Singaporeans, after all, do enjoy the occasional “symbolic” gesture, but these moves do not in any way address the socio-economic issues that spawned the problem that is youth delinquency and crime. These moves do not address the policies that have created these the socio-economic issues and allowed them to fester.
If you want to put an end to gangs and gang violence in Singapore, you must do something for the youths (and their families) who would probably find their way into these gangs and into situations of violence.
The same argument goes for child pornography. So much effort is made to track down producers and consumers of child pornography. But is there anything done to improve the socio-economic conditions of children (and their families) such that child pornography will never ever be a consideration for income? For lesser developed countries, I believe the attention and money spent on building schools and infrastructure to improve the lives of children (and their families) should match or exceed the amount invested in enforcement against child pornography.
Child pornography is a problem also related to human trafficking. We may one day put an end to human trafficking and child pornography, but what about the people who would have been affected by or involved in these activities? Will we be spending any money and resources to make sure these people have an opportunity to earn a decent living (free of crime)?
We have to question our perpetual insistence on crime-fighting and open our eyes to the socio-political and economic conditions that have coerced individuals, families and groups into “crime” itself. Crime, more than just a pathological implication in most cases, should also be seriously considered a symptom, in Singapore’s case, of rapid ubranisation/modernisation, policy, turbulent economy, higher cost of living, faster pace of life, you get the drift.
Standing and fighting against a symptom is much easier than fighting to change the conditions from which the symptom manifests.
People are in situations they are in not solely because they are just lazy or crazy, but because they also find themselves coerced by the social, political and economic conditions they inhabit to do what they do. There are a host of reasons worthy of attention, and we cannot take the easy way out and solve just one problem.
Enforcement is often not in tandem with policy and the law, which is forgivable, given that we are in a situation in which policy and law appear to be inadequate, ill-informed and misdirected. An equal amount of effort and resources should be invested in tackling violence and child pornography, as well as helping the affected parties who would have found their way into these.
I recently read an interesting story in The New Paper about a cinemagoer (it’s recognised as ONE WORD, can you believe it?) who got punched. The police have classified this as a non-seizable offence, and the victim of the punch had wasted a lot of time pursuing the matter, filing a magistrate’s complaint and so on. This is not a new problem. Singaporeans have been discussing this for years, but nothing is being done about it. Perhaps we can vote in individuals and parties that would actually do something about it?
The law is just, but there are far too many impediments to justice – time, money for lawyers and the many processes to seeking justice.
Vandals get arrested and possibly fined, jailed and caned even though they have caused no harm to any human being.
A person who verbally threatens someone else can end up in jail. You say things to insult the modesty of a woman, you could be fined and/or jailed.
But when a woman slaps you, you have to file a magistrate’s complaint and there might be no justice done for the assaulted.
When a guy gets punched in the cinema, nothing happens, because it is a non-seizable offence. The police cannot protect the victim as they cannot arrest the assailant. In most cases, the aggrieved have to file a magistrate’s complaint or seek civil action – and it is not guaranteed that there will be justice.
So why are we spending money and resources to protect property and not human beings?
Another issue I have with acts of violence that end up labelled as non-seizable offences, is that it coerces people to take matters into their own hands. For instance, retaliation (whether it constitutes self-defence or not).
What about victims of violence (no broken bones = non-seizable offence) who are too poor to afford a lawyer, or not savvy enough to pursue justice? Will the police help them?
It is a double whammy if a victim of violence is left alone to seek redress. Anyway, most victims (as reported in papers) have been men.
When victims of violence act in self-defence, both the assailant and victim can be arrested for a variety of reasons, including rioting. What the fuck is going on?
We are only too reactive. We need to wait for broken bones, serious injuries and death to take action. It will be too late.
This is all the more why Singaporeans should stay out of trouble and never get involved with anything. We just accept our fates like the guy who got punched in the cinema – helpless and resigned to our fates.
If I were to ever find myself in a situation where I am being or would be assaulted (without weapons), I would also consider retaliating because I know there might not be justice. Eye gouge, fishhook, finger breaks, groin kicks, rib stomps (if assailant is down but trying to escape, but don’t break any bones because that would be a seizable offence!), chokes, etc. Sometimes, you have to be a hero for yourself.
What if your loved ones are being assaulted or threatened? Call the police first. And then do the necessary – subdue the assailant or fight. Because you will never know if the police would rub salt into your wounds when they classify the case as non-seizable and tell you to file a magistrate’s report.
Don’t blame the layperson for having insufficient knowledge of the law. Do something about the law itself.
Until something is done to lower the legal tolerance for violence and assault in Singapore, justice for you is the pain you should be inflicting on your assailant because you yourself are going to get hurt any way. We’re all symptoms of imperfect economies and political systems.