October 1, 2014
Who fills the vacuum?
The “absent state,” the stock catchphrase of all critiques concerning the recent outbursts of vigilante justice, is an unhelpful abstraction — what it really means is the need for effective policing and this makes police reform urgent. It is refreshing to see that public opinion in the main still rejects so-called lynching (even if political clarity on this issue leaves much to be desired — this will be the subject of tomorrow’s editorial), including most conservative voices with stances defined more by opportunism than by ideology. But if people cannot take the law into their own hands, they must trust the authorities and it is obvious that any society’s law enforcement is only as good as its security forces (even if the judicial front also needs to be covered). Here we only need to point out one fact to underline the need for police reform — the motorcycle thief apprehended and almost lynched in Palermo Soho in Wednesday’s highest-profile incident (and released the same night) was an ex-policeman. It is thus not enough to condemn the vigilante mentality, as this space has been doing for the last week — the police must be cleaned up, professionalized, modernized, adequately remunerated and reformed in every way.
Apart from reform, Argentina’s sundry security forces at federal, provincial and municipal level are badly in need of co-ordination. Among the many things which could be said on this issue, we would like to make one concrete suggestion — why not transfer the Federal Police to City Hall at long last? City Mayor Mauricio Macri has been one of the loudest voices over the “absent state” while Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich and Lower House Majority Leader Juliana Di Tullio have been insisting that security is a provincial responsibility — this transfer would match reality to the rhetoric of both sides. Some might point to the dangers of handing a police force to Macri but he can be no worse than many feudal inland governors already with their provincial police (even if not necessarily better) and the transfer can be carefully negotiated — in any case the reform and co-ordination of all policing has to be the final objective.
Two final comments on this latest lynching wave. It is often presented as something totally new as public patience with criminal impunity finally snaps but Thursday’s conclusion of a trial of neighbours who bashed a car thief with a toy gun to death just over four years ago suggests otherwise. And can we totally separate the police from lynching? There is often a fatal outcome to police chases of criminals — no doubt this extreme violence is fully justified in most cases but always?