The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Redeeming our society’s honour from its shame


In the “good old days”, before our post-terrorism civilization began to set in, the law was feared by the average citizen. Not because we were criminals, but because something of the awful majesty we only hear about these days was still extant “back then”. I still remember the trembling anticipation which ran through the neighbourhood “at the time” when it was announced that a thief and a robber were to be paraded by the coppers along a residential thoroughfare as part of their punishment for disturbing the peace of a well-patrolled borough.

Of course we were naïve and innocent in “those days”, and may have seen the local constabulary through rose-tinted glasses. Police brutality may have been as much par of the course in “that day” as it is today. But at least there was a black and white distinction between the good guys and the bad guys; and even if it was not the case that the twain shall never meet, that incidence was a rare occurrence.

Today, the boot is demonstrably on the other foot. Take an abuse, rape, or murder case at random (they are cropping up like crooked coppers at a rogues’ convention) – and you will be bound to find the finger of public suspicion pointed at a cover up by the guardians of the law.

The custodians of our citizenry not only aid and abet the influential and well-connected perpetrators of crime, they disabuse common or garden citizens of any notion that justice is, was, or will be done – if and when someone dares make a complaint, file legal action, or form a picketing line to protest the abuses of the law. A brave soul it is who marches into a cop shed today to lodge a formal entry against anyone in the least bit known in or recognized by society.

To be fair, the long arm of the law has been considerably foreshortened by our political culture (the very word makes me think of creepy-crawlies emerging from under an upturned crate or box). There appears to be every expectation on the part of the powers that be that the police will work hand-in-glove with the political establishment.

Those who won’t, don’t, or can’t bend over backwards to bow and scrape can expect to be rapped over the knuckles and hauled over the coals. Your average law-enforcement officer, far from being a knight in shining armour, is a lance for hire by the political aristocracy, the mercantile nobility, and the landed gentry with money to burn. Add drug barons and dukes of gambling and prostitution rings to the mix and you have the makings of a corrupt police state.

To be frank, we can’t at all blame the rank and file of a much maligned service. They are at the very bottom of a cruel, unforgiving, and irreversible pecking order. Hell hath no fury like a two-bit politico with high-up political connections scorned. Gone may be the days when recalcitrant PCs who refused to cooperate were deported to outer darkness, where a war raged; but there are still some transfers and assignments that can constitute a personal and professional Siberia of an extremely undesirable nature.

To be favourable, there are no doubt sterling officers who know what their stern duty is. We see some of them on the streets everyday, struggling like Norse gods against the Ragnarok of the traffic jam which they know they can never defeat and which will grind them into the dust like some ice-giant juggernaut if given half a chance.

The impenitent mock them as they roar past in those triumphant convoys, the irreverent malign them from the comfort of the luxury SLR Class Mercs, and the ignorant spare them hardly any thought as they voyage home in buses that are more like Viking longboats than public transport.
And for every police officer publicly doing his or her duty, there must be hundreds if not thousands more labouring with love (or at least the least amount of grumbling) to safeguard, serve, and protect the millions of denizens and citizens alike who make up a vast, swirling, amorphous mass of names, faces, natures, characters, and personalities.

Now as the title of this article suggests, dears, there is something that this writer thinks can be done to salvage a measure of our reputation for being an orderly society. (We agree with the president that if a woman, maiden, or girl-child cannot feel safe on our streets, there must be “something wrong somewhere”.) It is that we, the people, can take the law into our own hands.

Not in the way that flash mobs did in Angulana or organised protests did at Katunayake. But by being the fully committed law-abiding citizens that the state does not need to police. On the positive side, patrol your own practice as a citizen. On the negative side, pre-empt the temptations to petty crime we all face… drink-driving, littering, loitering with intent, and taking without consent. The idea is to put the police force out of a job. They have enough work to do to keep organised crime running in this country.

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