Collective Violence – Examples – Part II

I wasn’t sure how often I’d be posting stories of contemporary mob violence but it looks like there are enough incidents to post a list of them every two weeks or less. (If you want to know why I’m doing this, read the first posting.)

Be sure to read the last incident, which is different from the others.

Journalist Carlos Quispe Quispe, with Radio Municipal in Pucarani, was beaten and left unconscious when a mob opposing the mayor attacked the radio station on 27 March. He died on 29 March of his injuries.
“At least 150 protesters rallied outside the government building in Pucarani, a small city about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the capital, La Paz, and called for the ouster of Mayor Alejandro Mamani. … The protesters forced their way into the municipal building and broke down the door to the government-run Radio Municipal. … Protestors wielding whips and metal rods beat Quispe in the head and chest.” The group was allegedly made up of “members of the municipal government’s monitoring committees (comités de vigilancia) who have accused Mayor Alejandro Mamani of corruption” and who “felt the station had been used by the mayor to defame them.”
Conformity: The mob felt justified in beating the ‘mouthpiece’ of the radio station, believing they had been defamed by him. I.e., he deserved it. A journalist is an outsider to some extent because simply by acting as observer and commentator, he places himself outside the circle of those he observes and comments on. No report on how the scapegoating may or may not have united the townspeople.
2. 6 April 2008, Igunga, Tabora, Tanzania, Africa:  Igunga police kill, hold 14 over witchcraft saga

Police in Igunga have shot dead a 20-year old youth and are holding 14 people in connection with mob violence in which the Igunga Police Station was burned.  … The regional police chief said an angry mob of more than a thousand people, holding stones, laid siege on the police station on Thursday, threatening to kill two women, Hawa Athman and Malizia Ramadhani, residents of Nkokoto Street in Igunga. Their neighbours accuse them of practising witchcraft, prompting the police to put them under protective custody.

Conformity: The accusation of ‘witch’ makes those accused seem to be outsiders. There are no details about how the accusation came about, what perceptions it was based on, whether the women had caused perceived harm to anyone. The group attacked the police station where the women were in protective custody because they felt the police were delaying ‘justice’ in this case. That there were more than 1,000 people in the mob indicates strong community unanimity in the accusation.

“With a man suspected of stealing books being beaten to death by a mob here, shocking incidents of lynching continue in Bihar. Ram Pravesh Mahto, in his late 20s, was Friday brutally thrashed after he was allegedly caught stealing books from a printing press at Chakaram intersection under the jurisdiction of Buddha colony police station. ‘Mahto was beaten to death with bricks and bamboo sticks by a mob after he was caught stealing books,’ Gaurishankar Singh, officer in charge of the police station, said. He was a resident of the Dujra locality here and his family said that he was not a thief.”

Conformity: Not much info here. This part of India sees a lot of lynchings, so obviously if there is a sense of peace and unity afterwards, it’s very short-lived. The most interesting part of this report is the family’s testimony that he is not an habitual thief. Remember that in the report on the man lynched on 26 March in Bihar it was said that “there seems to be no resentment as the man had criminal antecedents.” In this new case, the family may be signalling that the man did not deserve this treatment and that there may well be “resentment.” (Or they may just be upholding family honour.)

4. 3 April 2008, Sheffield, England, UK:

“Three Asian men were locked up this week for their part in the ‘mob violence’ that led to the death of an Iraqi Kurd on the streets of Sheffield. Ismail Rashid, aged 42, was the victim of an ‘honour killing’, beaten to death because he had been sleeping with a married Pakistani woman. A gang of up to 20 attacked him … in June last year and he died in the Northern General Hospital eight days later, despite brain surgery.  Amjad Latif, aged 27, armed himself with part of a roof rack from his car and hit Mr Rashid around the head, knocking him to the ground, Sheffield Crown Court was told. A ‘sustained attack’ by others followed, with Ashraf Latif, 18, and Ishtiaq Ahmed, 19, both admitting kicking him as he lay on the ground. On Tuesday they were sentenced to a total of 20-and-a-half years in custody. … The purposes of sentencing in a case like this are clear – to punish the individual offenders and to send a clear message that the use of mob violence in the streets cannot be tolerated in a civilised society.” The catalyst for the attack had apparently been Rashid’s spraypainting of his nickname ‘Rambo’ while he was drunk on the front of a shop owned the Latif brothers’ cousin.

Conformity: The victim was seen as deserving violence, because he was breaking a cultural (and presumably religious) taboo. He further ‘incited’ his attackers by flaunting himself and defacing another’s property.  In a ‘civilised society’ that places a cultural prohibition on extra-marital affairs, the victim probably would not be attacked or killed (though he might be, but probably only by one person, not a group) but would likely be scapegoated in more subtle ways, by economic and social exclusion, by ruining his reputation, and so on. The woman would probably be scapegoated as well. In some civilised societies, there is little or no prohibition on extra-marital affairs, perhaps because the role of religion is minimal in those areas. ? Are there ‘civilised’ countries where such things are handled by a civil legal system?

5. 1 April 2008, Waycross, GA, USA: Third-graders plot to harm teacher.

“A group of third-graders plotted to attack their teacher, bringing a broken steak knife, handcuffs, duct tape and other items for the job and assigning children tasks including covering the windows and cleaning up afterward, police said Tuesday.  The plot by as many as nine boys and girls at Center Elementary School in south Georgia was a serious threat, Waycross Police Chief Tony Tanner said. … The scheme involved a division of roles, Tanner said. One child’s job was to cover windows so no one could see outside, he said. Another was supposed to clean up after the attack.”

“The children, ages 8 and 9, were apparently mad at the teacher because she had scolded one of them for standing on a chair.”

Conformity: For 8- and 9-year-olds, the teacher is an outsider by virtue of both her exalted role and her advanced age. Justification for the attack was that one of their classmates was ‘unjustly’ scolded for what they probably considered a minor infraction. The unusual thing about this case is that the mob attack was heavily premeditated, not spontaneous. If it had actually occured, however, others might have joined spontaneously, sucked into the excitement of the moment.

6. A different kind of mob story.

J. Dunne at Through the Eyes of Faith: Holy Cross Ghana blogs about witnessing and transforming an incident of mob violence last month.

At around Noon that same day [Good Friday] I heard a loud ruckus outside the school library where I was working with a student. I turned to see a few students running across the assembly area towards the canteen just outside the campus grounds. As I walked out of the room I saw about a hundred of our boys gathered around the canteen outside the campus.

I knew what it was before I got there. It was what I feared… Ewee. In the Fante language Ewee means thief. Now why does that cause me to fear? Stealing in Ghana, or in Africa, for that matter is a pretty serious crime. The thing is thieves aren’t turned over to the police, in fact, the police sometimes don’t ever hear about the incidents. When a thief is caught he faces mob justice which usually ends up with the thief being beaten, humiliated and then lynched, drowned, or burned to death. The general justification for such brutal punishment is that to steal something that someone has worked their whole lives for is like taking that person’s life; so you should be killed for doing such a thing.

Anyway, the story is this. A young man was caught trying to steal a TV antennae in Anaji, where our school is located. The small mob stripped the man naked and beat him severely. They walked him down the road humiliating him in front of all who were present until the thief ran toward our school for some vain hope of refuge. His accusers continued to beat and insult him outside our school grounds.

When I finally got to the scene I was overcome with anger. There were my own students laughing, insulting, and encouraging the other men to beat the thief. Once of the students ran up to me laughing like a jolly fool, ‘Hey Bro…look look Eweeo!’ I shoved him to the ground and started screaming at the tops of my lungs for the students to go inside. I don’t think they ever saw me that angry because they all scattered and ran inside. One of the teachers came out behind me and helped me to get the rest of the boys back inside.

I turned back to see the thief crying and begging for his life whilst bleeding all over. His accusers stood over him holding big sticks and shovels. They were shouting insults in the vernacular and slapping him across the face.

They wanted to kill him. I felt sick. I couldn’t stand it so I stepped up to the accusers and begged them to let him go. At first they didn’t mind me at all. Almost as if I wasn’t there, but eventually they began to move away from the thief until there was only one man left. He still stood there holding his stick threatening the thief by slamming it on the bench behind where the thief was sitting. I looked at the man and told him he was sick.

All of the students were still watching from inside the campus. I had to do something for the young man. I took off my undershirt and gave it to the poor naked criminal. We made eye contact for about one second before I turned and headed back inside the school.

As I walked back into the school all of my students with impatient tones demanded to know why I would do such a thing. ‘Bro why would you give that man your shirt? He is a thief.’

I was so bewildered by my mixture of rage and discouragement that I could hardly speak, but I did manage to answer their question. ‘Because I am a Christian.’

I don’t think they understood me.

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