The making of a law – ful society

outloud title bar[notice]A new, monthly column by Vivienne Solomons who is a legal consultant who passionately believes that God wants His people to make a difference right where they are and to stand up for what is true and just. She is also passionate about encouraging young women to walk victoriously with God and she is engaged in a challenging faith journey as a parent of a child with special needs.[/notice]

Time to review our attitude to law enforcement?

Last week I tuned in to a conversation on the radio that centred on the apparent spate of police (and I use that term in the broadest sense) killings. One caller, a member of the public, commented that the seemingly unabated killing of police and law enforcement officers should be viewed as part and parcel of the increase in crime generally, and that the police are not being targeted per se. While I am certain that the caller was himself convinced that this is true, and was most likely motivated by his desire to downplay the situation and quell the flames of fear that threaten to flare up from time to time, in my opinion, he was missing the point. The fact of the matter is that more than 50 police officers have been killed so far this year, which is a 12% increase compared to the year before. Surely, the increase in police killings is not to be taken as a given, considering the increase in crime in general but is to be rather seen as an indicator of the type of criminal that we as a society are dealing with: one that not only has no respect for the law (by definition) but also is willing to take his or her crime to the next level by killing anyone and everyone who poses a threat to him or her, and sadly, in many instances, even those who do not.

Critical line crossed
While the lives of a civilian and an officer should carry the same value, in my mind at least, a critical line is crossed when a perpetrator purposes to kill a law enforcement officer, and without a moment’s hesitation. Perhaps I am naive or perhaps it is simply a function of my age and the time in which I grew up, but for me law enforcement is one of the last bastions of a law – ful (as opposed to a law-less) and thriving society. That is, if the executors of our law enforcement system are targeted and the mechanisms of law enforcement fail, what then is to become of the system, and indeed, our society?

This point was brought home by another caller, himself a police officer. And it was this call that stopped me in my tracks. He told of the harsh reality of fighting crime at the coalface in South Africa and as he shared from the heart, his commitment to his work was evident; so too was his frustration at the manner in which he and other hardworking officers are generally treated by members of the public. His call ended with an appeal for our understanding and cooperation when engaging law enforcement officers who are simply doing their job. His plea was heartfelt and it resonated with me in a way that took me by surprise.

For as much as I hate to admit it, I too am guilty of treating law enforcement officers with suspicion and a fair amount of cynicism. More than that, I have told myself that I can and should expect little or nothing from them. I base this assumption not on my personal experience but on a collage of print and digital media reports, as well as the anecdotal evidence of others. My personal experience, however, paints a rather different picture.

Helpful officer
There was the time I turned right into what I thought was a two way street but which evidently was a one way — in the opposite direction. Of course, it had to be a busy intersection at a busy time of day and consequently, I found myself in a tight spot – literally. I soon realised that a member of the metropolitan police had been a witness to the entire event and when he approached my vehicle, I anticipated the worst. Instead, after his emphasising the gravity of the situation I found myself in and my explaining that I was not familiar with that part of town, he not only helped me navigate my way out of the tight spot but also escorted me to the road I needed to be on to reach my destination. It was not the response I had expected but certainly the one I had hoped for — and needed.

Then there was the time my car was almost stolen. The genuine kindness and concern of a plainclothes cop who happened to be near the scene impressed me. As did the professional yet caring conduct of the uniformed police officers who arrived within minutes of his call. And I could go on. Yet, my mind insists on returning to what has become its default position, time and time again. Perhaps due in no small part to the fact that I know others’ experiences have unfortunately been vastly different to mine.  

In my opinion, this is a major part of the challenge in fighting crime in our nation: The fact that many of us have become passive bystanders in the fight. That is, for a number of different and often very personal reasons, we are hesitant to participate in the management of crime. We may feel powerless and disillusioned; be afraid of reprisals; or see the fight against crime as a job for the skilled and qualified only. Sadly, and I have heard this more than once, we do this to the benefit of only the criminal element in society.

Duty of every citizen
It is my firm belief that maintaining lawfulness is the duty of every citizen, and that our specific role should be to hold the police accountable and participate in the justice system in an appropriate yet meaningful way. But if we are to do this effectively, we cannot view law enforcement officers as inherently ‘bad’. We need to give them the benefit of the doubt (It does, however, go without saying that it is important to be vigilant, especially at night and when alone, to apply wisdom to every situation and to know our legal rights should we have the misfortune to find ourselves on the wrong side of the law, for whatever reason). We have the right to demand the highest form of conduct from all those responsible for law enforcement, and that they do their job to the best of their training and ability. They cannot do it alone, however; they need our cooperation and assistance. This necessarily means that we ‘police’ ourselves first and others second, and that we become more involved members of our local communities, willing to work alongside and with the police in the fight against crime. For in the words of Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn: “Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but a conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who clearly recognise the voice of their own conscience usually recognise also the voice of justice”.

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