Lynching — The Illicit Appeal of Instant Justice
Someone slapped him. Another punched him in the gut. Several others struck him with sticks, stones and iron rods. They beat him till he was black and blue, and a few more hues from the color spectrum. And they didn’t stop even when his bloodied face became too swollen to truly count as a face anymore. They spat on him when he cried out and begged for mercy. But they had none to give him; only their ire. They shoved his head into the gutter, ignoring his struggles to break free as he choked on the foul, murky waters. A burly man approached, a cement block high above his head, his brow furrowed not from its hefty weight but from his intent to smash the thief with it…
The above snippet is from a lynching I witnessed several years ago in my neighborhood. The thief in question had broken into someone’s house and stolen a mobile phone. Lynching, also known in various circles as instant justice, jungle justice, mob justice or mob action, is generally defined as the killing of an alleged criminal for an alleged offence by a group of people, without a legal trial. And the implied instantaneity of instant justice has more to do with skipping the tedious judicial processes of punishment than a quick, merciful death for the accused.
Lynching is barbaric. Lynching is inhumane. Lynching defies the rule of law and is an embarrassment to democracy. And yet lynching has a certain vengeful appeal which we’re rightly forbidden to explore. To shed some insight into this bold line of thinking, consider this robbery scenario we’ve all probably encountered in the media in one variation or the other:
There were about four of them; all masked and armed to the teeth. They broke into the house, guns blazing, like they owned the goddamn place. Two dragged the startled couple out of bed, and forced them to their knees on the carpet. They trained their guns on them and demanded that they give up all their cash and valuables at once. When the husband didn’t move fast enough — for terror had crippled his joints — the gang leader roughed him up, and barked at the screaming wife to shut up or she’d eat a bullet. The fourth one returned to the bedroom with two crying kids; a boy, 6, and a girl, 4. The wife frantically reached for them and begged the robbers not to hurt her children. The husband handed over everything they had: cash, jewelry, laptops, mobile phones, TVs, car keys and basically anything worth a damn just so they wouldn’t harm his family. But somehow it was still not enough. The leader eyed the wife in her nightgown and licked his lips. She fought them the whole way, but it was no use. They each took their turn with her; and when the husband managed to overpower one of them, they shot him dead — right in front of his two little children…
Now if this gang was apprehended by an angry mob and brutally lynched for their nefarious actions, would you honestly lose any sleep over their execution? Wouldn’t a part of you, no matter how hard you tried to suppress it, feel that the punishment was befitting and well-deserved, as opposed to just turning over the robbers, unscathed, to a judicial system which they could bribe or loophole their way out of? And even if they were found guilty in a court of law and given cushy prison sentences, would you still feel that justice had been served? I certainly wouldn’t. Granted, lynching them wouldn’t undo the crimes they committed, but it’s a damn good start in the way of atonement.
At the risk of getting lynched myself — at least, verbally — I will confess to moments when I’ve been tempted to believe that lynching has a place in society. How could I not, after subjection to incessant reports in the newspapers about 11-month old baby girls being fingered and defiled to death, victims of gruesome ritual murders found with vital body parts missing, pedophiles sodomizing little boys, cannibals killing and eating children, serial rapists mutilating their victims after raping them, fathers raping their daughters, teachers raping their students and heavily armed robbers breaking into homes to steal, kill and destroy? And to afterward hear that these depraved low-lives escaped justice? No, it was just unacceptable.
But this is not to say that I root for instant justice. Lynching is a cancer that chips away our humanity and reduces us to the very evil we believe we’re fighting. It fosters a breeding ground where reprobates hide to commit their own transgressions. Take for instance that incident in 2011 where a young lady was stripped naked and sexually assaulted by some male university students after she was caught stealing a laptop on the university campus. The filthy perverts didn’t give two shits about the theft; all they saw was an opportunity to molest a woman and get away with it, and so they used mob action as the perfect excuse to do so.
Mob justice is a double-edged sword that hacks the innocent as sharply as it does the guilty. How many lynching instances have we heard where the victim was actually innocent? I am reminded of one such instance back in 2012 where four male students were viciously murdered by a community after they were mistaken for thieves. Three of the four had tagged along with their friend who sought to collect a debt from an indigene of the town where the tragedy took place. Apparently, a misunderstanding ensued during the debt-settling, and the debtor raised an alarm that he was being robbed. The community’s vigilante group heeded the call and captured these four young men. Despite their pleas of innocence, the people beat them up, stripped them naked, degraded them, hang rubber tyres around their necks, doused them in petrol and set them ablaze.
Pictures and videos of the grisly scene were uploaded onto the Internet, and by God, were they excruciating to look at! But look we did. We owed the victims that much. The overwhelming outcry sparked investigations into the incident, and it came to light that the town had been terrorized for a long time by merciless criminals who stole, raped and killed the residents. And frustrated with the police’s insouciance and inaction, the community had formed a vigilante group to protect themselves. It was this frustration that the debtor tapped into to permanently weasel himself out of debt. After all, dead creditors collect no debts.
As odious an act as jungle justice is, it is not born out of sadism. It is born out of a people’s exasperation with a corrupt, ineffective and lax justice system where law enforcers collude with lawbreakers to unleash untold agony on the law-abiding citizens they’re sworn to protect, where minimum sentences are handed down for the vilest offences, and where criminals are able to evade the law’s clutches at the right price.
Take for example, this notorious thieving scoundrel in my neighborhood who’s gotten away with numerous crimes — his most heinous by far being the cold-blooded murder of a taxi driver who recognized him and called out his name after he snatched a lady passenger’s purse. He shot the cabbie and rode away on his motorcycle like it was nothing, and he faced no retribution for that crime and the others, all because he’s related to a law enforcement officer.
And so the swine struts the streets scot-free, feeling like a king. He catcalls every girl he sees and insults them when they spurn his ugly, unwanted advances, all while bragging about how he beds hookers. Who knows how many women he’s raped that we haven’t heard about yet? People in the vicinity laugh at his crude, stupid jokes and egg him on out of fear. If that dog’s day ever came, I can’t guarantee that I won’t be leading the front line to flog him, and that I won’t cackle when they hang a gasoline-soaked tyre around his neck and light him up.
It’s not enough to simply denounce instant justice. Examining its root causes and tackling them is the first step to abolishing the act. Until the judicial system weeds out the corruption in its backyard and gets its shit together, the disillusioned people will continue to play judge, jury and executioner; and we’ll keep witnessing horrifying incidents like this: