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Marc My Words: A Tale Of Misplaced Justice

MARC MY WORDS 8 July 2005

A cautionary tale of misplaced justice.

There is an old joke that goes like this: A man who had just been burgled and beaten was found by a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist leaned down to the man and asked "Do you know who did this to you? I think he needs my help"

Sadly we recently had a real life example of just such a misplaced concern. Michael Vaimauga is a twenty-four year old who observed three burglars smashing their way into a Guthrie Bowron store in Pleasant View Road Auckland, in February. He watched for two or three minutes then phoned the police as the would-be burglars smashed the glass door. Next he got out his baseball bat and shouted at them to stop. They responded by running off in different directions.

Michael chased the one who had caused the damage. The door smasher ran onto private property, picked up a child's scooter and using it as a weapon hit Michael on the forearm. In self-defence, Michael hit his attacker on the shin with the bat, felling him to the ground. Michael dragged his assailant and the unsuccessful thief to a nearby Mobil station, and again called the police.

Aashis Sadhu, part owner of the Guthrie Bowron store applauded Michael's actions. The police did not.

Michael Vaimauga was taken to the police station for questioning and charged with assault with a weapon, while the teenage wannabe burglar was cared for at Auckland City Hospital. Hard to believe but it gets worse!

Michael was arrested, taken to Court (29 June this year), told by Judge Nicola Mathers that he should not take the law into his own hands - and was discharged (quite rightly too!), but only after agreeing to pay a fine of $150 to the Salvation Army. In my opinion this case highlights the absurdity of our justice system: it is back to front.

How is it possible that the administration of our legal system is so lacking in intelligence and discernment that we now actively punish those who try to uphold it? Surely we can agree that Michael Vaimauga is a hero deserving of a public commendation rather than a legal condemnation? Why was he forced to jump through courtroom hoops to avoid an unblemished record? In a time when convicted criminals get compensation payouts, tattoo removals and even sex-change operations paid for by the law-abiding, the idea that someone who does his bit out of a civic sense of duty to ensure the safety and security of property, is then arrested and dragged before the Courts like a common criminal, beggars belief!

If the criminal justice system was really about justice rather than 'a process' to deal with infractions of law, then it must uphold principles that compensate the law-abiding to the same measure as it penalises the guilty: In other words a carrot and stick approach.

The real problem, I suspect, is that unless we experience crime or empathise from a victim's point of view it is unreal. We have become desensitized to the various palettes of crime and violence through neat pre packaged media renditions portrayed in both news, and its fictional counterparts. We have tidy endings where though terrible things happen to people, there is a certainty that the bad guys will end up with their richly deserved punishment; there will be a revenge fuelled vigilante resolution; and the hapless victims have to get on with their lives, quietly dismissed from the main drama, so that we can conveniently forget.

But crime isn't like that.

The effects of crime doesn't stop being real just because the reporters have gone away. For many victims the crime inflicted upon them remains a defining part of their lives. Whether it's waking up to find your murdered partner missing from beside you; the inability to ever trust again; dealing with the aftermath of violent injuries; or hours spent with a counsellor - the consequences of crime cast a shadow over a lifetime.

What upsets me are the never-ending apathetic (even hostile) attitudes to victims. Oh sure.we shake our heads at the TV when someone has been particularly victimised, but the truth is we don't let our thoughts linger too long because we fear that our hearts may break and we will be shaken from our self-imposed complacency.

But not all crimes grab the headlines. A good number are not so interesting to us because our diet of sensationalism has blunted our ability to exercise compassion. In fact, so far that when a law-abiding member of our society tries to care.tries to do his bit, like Michael, he is punished for it.

Shame on us.


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