Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Instant Justice is No Justice at all

On Wednesday of this past week, two stories emerge in the newsroom that shed light on some of the fundamental challenges that Ghana faces today. Seth, a SKYY News reporter who has previously worked with JHR trainers at another media house, follows up on an ongoing investigation. 23 people have been arrested in a small town near Takoradi. They have been accused of participating in the murder of a man in a case of instant justice gone horribly wrong.

The murdered man was a hospital administrator, and leader of a community church assembly. He was transporting the remains of a woman who had died at the hospital, to a mortuary at the request of the woman’s family. The man stopped in the town on his way there.

This community was reeling from having experienced three recent, and as of yet, unsolved murders. The town’s people were on alert, seeking to bring to justice the ‘serial killers’ responsible for these crimes.

When the body of the dead woman was discovered in the hospital administrator’s vehicle, a mob formed seeking justice for the woman, and revenge for their dead. Despite having paperwork to prove his innocence, the mob beat the hospital administrator to death.

The 23 people are being held by the local police constabulary, waiting for word from the office of the prosecutor on how to proceed.

Wednesday’s 6 o’clock newscast presents another side to the debate. A taxi driver, identified only as ‘Rasta’, picks up a fare only to have a knife pulled on him when the fare is due. Rasta turns the tables on the would-be armed robber, disarming him and beating him senseless. The taxi driver then ties up the formerly armed robber at the ankles and wrists and throws him in the trunk of the car.

Rasta then drives his taxi to the SKYY News building and displays his catch to the media. He sits on the lip of the open trunk, bound and tied man unconscious, bleeding and shivering inside. Rasta holds the knife the alleged attacker used. It is a broken wood handled steak knife held together by twine. He speaks Akan and recounts his ordeal for the camera. Rasta is covered in dried mud, shirtless and missing a few teeth. His eyes are bulging as he spins the knife in his hands. The reporter stands off camera, holding the mic, allowing Rasta to tell his tale. Few questions are asked.

The segment ends and we don’t know what happened to the man in the trunk. Is he brought to the police? Is he left for dead in a ditch?

The story is the third of the newscast, buried behind a warning of the dangers of self-medicating and a story on the decline of registered marriages in the region. The event happened the previous weekend, but doesn’t make it on air until Wednesday evening.

It’s just another case of people taking justice into their own hands because they cannot trust the police and judicial system. Nothing new. Happens everyday. What would you do, in Rasta’s shoes, I’m asked. Would you let the armed robber kill you? Would you hold the man and wait for police, only to hear that he’s been released two weeks later due to lack of evidence? Or perhaps, was able to bribe his way out of the charges?

When you can’t count on the state to protect you, you take the job into your own hands, I’m told. It’s a matter of survival, not right or wrong, good or bad. What are laws worth if the system cannot or will not enforce them? How can there be justice when corruption rules?

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