...On The Topic Of Mob Justice

Yesterday, after news came out that a 23-year-old man was killed in Mogoditshane by a mob on suspicion of stealing, debates raged on among Batswana regarding the topic of mob justice. The views and opinions presented in the debate—which spanned over different social media channels— were quite polar and subtly painted a picture of the inequality that persists in our society and ergo the difference in opinions over social issues in Botswana.

The two prominent sides in the debate were those in support of mob justice and those who were against its use as a tool for justice. The former's argument for their support of society taking the law into their own hands was that because of the country's rather lenient criminal justice system, criminals were easily being let out on bail every time they commit crimes, an example being the deceased gentleman who, according to reports, was a habitual criminal who had been out on bail for other crimes when he met his demise over the weekend.

The latter— on the other hand— took a more conservative stance in the argument and were of the opinion that mob justice had no place in a civilized society like our own regardless of the circumstances. They went on to argue that not only was the use of mob justice uncivilized and barbaric, it also undermined the country's rule of law as well as impeding on the human rights of those on the receiving end of such wrath from members of the public.

What stood out to me in the argument, though, was what seemed to be the underlying cause of the wide disparity in the opinion of the opposing groups—the inequality in our country. It appeared to me that most of those who were in support of mob justice were dwellers of low income and crime-infested areas of the country who were experiencing the effects of crime first hand on a daily basis whilst those who were against it were of a more upper-middle-income status and resided in areas much less prone to issues of crime.

As someone who is from a low-income neighborhood and has seen and felt first hand the devasting effects of crime, I can understand very well why sometimes the public found it fitting to take matters into their own hands. Low-income neighborhoods, as I mentioned in this post, are susceptible to high levels of crime as a result of social conditions like liquorlining, unemployment etc and it seems like the government is not willing to do much to curb both these social conditions and the consequent crime so it would make sense that enforcing order by other means like mob justice is the immediate goto option for these terrorized communities.

It is not like these communities enjoy imposing mob justice on criminals to a point where they are always crossing fingers for crimes to be committed so they can blow off steam on a caught criminal. They impose it because their hands are forced as a result of the incompetence of their government in curbing the aforementioned social conditions and the crime that come with them. In the quest to protect their property and their lives, communities end up resorting to taking the law into their own hands because it seems like the government could not be bothered to offer this protection.

From the comfort of their high walls and 24-hour security services, it is easy for the upper-middle-class to quote law textbooks which purport to show the barbarism of mob justice but it is a different situation altogether for people whose families are being terrorized by criminals every day who then get bail and pick up where they left off. What is barbaric is the unrestrained capability of criminals to take the property, lives, and leave life long scars, both physical and emotional, on our people knowing that the worst they are going to get is a slap on the wrist from the country's justice system.

Instead of shunning communities for taking the law into their own hands and imposing this supposed barbarism on criminals in order to protect themselves, the outcry should be directed on the reason these communities find it necessary to present themselves as judge, jury, and executioner—the incompetence of the government in protecting them.

For as long as police patrols and response rates to crime complaints continue to be dependent on the affluence of the neighborhood and the justice system keeps letting criminals roam the streets and do as they please, communities will continue to do whatever they can to protect themselves, regardless of how "barbaric and uncivilized" the means to attaining that protection are.