Friday, March 06, 2015

On Mob Justice

There's an hour long BBC documentary making the rounds on the Internet. No one in it shows any gore, but the descriptions of how a particular rape happened in India are enough to make most anyone question his faith in humanity. You turn cynical when you hear how defense lawyers justified the behavior of the rapists. If you plan to watch it-- assuming you can find it amidst copyright takedowns and calls to suppress it-- steel yourself, and take the time to pause the video, because you might have to.

A link to a CNN article about the documentary is here.

One of my Facebook groups had a thread on mob justice where this (from the  New Indian Express) was shared and discussed. The question on the poster's mind was, "Do you agree with mob justice?" TL;DR: My answer was "No."

I'm putting my longer response below.

Q. "Do you support mob justice? Or do you think it is justified?"

A. No. Angry mobs tend to punish crimes disproportionately. 

They serve as a kind of release for the people who join them (and only for this emotional sense would I agree that there is some justification for mob justice), but they're not just meting out punishment for one particular crime. An individual member of a mob could just be using the mob's desire to punish a criminal as an excuse to lash out against an entirely different issue, such as his own frustration with life or maybe his own poverty. (Ask yourself: Why is there a risk of looting when protests turn ugly?)

They might also be making the criminal a scapegoat. The fierceness with which a mob calls for a criminal's death might be a reflection of the fear each member feels about himself. The existence of the criminal implies the existence of criminal tendencies within the self. Punishing the criminal excessively (by demanding blood, for example) may be an act of denial. By asking for extreme measures, the mob member is saying "This is not me/my country/my culture!" 

This is neither fair to the criminal (being forced to bear someone else's sins) nor does it show that the mob is a group of brave, just, and thinking people-- the kind of people who have a right to mete out proper justice.

Mob violence satiates the crowd's bloodlust and allays its fear and anguish, but it doesn't really fix the problem of crime. In the case of most rape, the real problem is not that people feel sexual urges. It's the mindset that (generally) males have: women are objects (regardless of whether they should be 'protected' or 'used'), or that women are second class citizens who automatically come under the protection and authority of men. An angry mob is not subtle enough to deal with this problem. An angry mob cannot sit and think about what social reforms have to be made to address it.

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