Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Crime and Punishment (?)

Last night, Emira, her friend Bronwyn and I, went out on the town. As we exited the first bar, walking down the street there was sudden "POP!" behind us. Emira turned, and I wheeled around to see two youths about ten feet away smash the driver's side of a car window and jump in.

My first thought – they’re stealing a car in broad daylight.
My second thought – perhaps they have weapons.
My third – perhaps they don’t want witnesses.
My fourth – let’s run.

We ran about twenty feet, and stopped in a doorway, wondering what to do next. I didn’t see what the thugs did next, but Bronwyn said she saw the whole thing. They reached into the car, hopped out, crossed the street and walked blithely away, with their hoodies up, blending into the crowd. That’s why she started running, so we wouldn’t be keeping the same pace. We debated and debated on what to do.

Myself, it has been drilled into me to keep a low profile. Never ever ever mess with the cops in a foreign country. Not good idea. But neither did I just want to act like nothing had happened. Emira asked a neighbor who popped his head out of a window right above our heads if we should call the cops. The neighbor took a drag from his cigarette and cynically said, “Why bother? They’re not going to do anything.”

Huh. We ended up just leaving. Knowing it was not really a violent crime helped soothe our guilty minds, but it was still unsettling. Emira and Bronwyn filled me on the recent spate of youth crimes, including one where a group of boys killed another youth on a crowded public tram at 7pm – stabbed repeatedly.

This morning I got up and googled “youth crime, Bosnia” and this story popped up. Turns out, there’s not really anything Bosnian authorities can do to anyone under 18 as there’s no juvenile system in place. It’s strange to think that there is this horrible violence going on and no one – including us – does anything about it.

The more and more I travel the more I realize that we are all just inches away from mass chaos, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in Bosnia or the US. A few special ingredients: disregard for rule of law, polarizing politics and a cowed public is really all it takes. And while I’d like to think I’d be part of the counter-revolution, I’m schooled by experiences like last night, when it’s far better to melt slowly into the crowd, than risk retribution by feral youths or the scrutiny of an inept police investigation.

No comments: