Fri, 21 Mar 2003

`Fighting elite hoodlums is harder'

Thuggery is as a serious threat to legal certainty and press freedom as reflected in the attack on Tempo magazine on March 8. The issue drew nationwide condemnation from journalists and the public, including some legislators and government officials. Journalists even joined forces and declared an all-out-war against thuggery. The Jakarta Post spoke to several city residents on the issue:

Yanto, 37, is a newspaper hawker who works along Jl. Urip Sumoharjo and resides in Cipinang, both in East Jakarta, with his wife and son:

I know that, in general, the existence of thugs in many parts of the city has badly threatened security. Personally, I don't feel bothered by them as I see them everyday when I'm working.

However, I agree with the fight against thuggery, because it would help make the city more secure.

Nevertheless, I think that journalists alone won't succeed in fighting them. Journalists work is about using logic and communicating it by means of pen and ink. How could such tools will be used to win in a fight against knives, which are used by most thugs? It would be in vain, I guess. The thugs on the street simply use senseless physical force.

It would be better to fight them jointly with the government apparatus and the community. The journalists campaign, and the police and community could arrest the thugs. But the police need to have a really strong commitment to fight them, because there are some police officers who also act like thugs.

But, in a way, I believe that it would be difficult to entirely get rid of thugs. The only thing possible is to minimize their number.

I agree that thugs should receive harsh punishment, but they shouldn't be killed extrajudicially. They still deserve to be socially rehabilitated, I guess.

But the fight against street thugs is far easier than the fight against elite "hoodlums" in the House of Representatives or among high-ranking government officials, those who always extort money from people. They deserve to be called high-profile hoodlums.

Would journalists and the government still dare fight them? That's the question.

Dio, 40, is an assistant manager at a supermarket in South Jakarta. He resides in Cempaka Baru, Central Jakarta, with his family:

I don't think that the journalists are powerful enough by themselves to fight against the thugs. The hoodlums are far more powerful, as they are accustomed to carrying out physical violence.

The thuggery might be too widespread to be eradicated just through print or electronic media, without more rigid measures.

The police and the government, as well as the general public, must also be responsible for the fight. Otherwise, it would be pointless.

Worse still, high-ranking military officials and police officers have apparently been involved in similar thuggery practices, both small and large, who should also be targeted in the fight to eradicate thuggery.

Without the integrated commitment of all the above elements of society, the journalists will be vulnerable to threats and intimidation.

This is the best way to eradicate the alarming spread of hoodlumism in the country.

Ridwan (not his real name), 26, works as a sidewalk shoe vendor in Jatinegara, and lives with his wife and daughter in Kayu Manis, both areas of East Jakarta:

I agree with the fight against hoodlums in the city, particularly those who exploit the sidewalk vendors here every day.

I have to give out Rp 1,000 a day and an additional Rp 3,000 at the end of the month. We don't dare to refuse, otherwise they will threaten us or even provoke a fight.

I would rather give them the fees to avoid conflicts, even though it really takes a chunk out of our earnings.

I reckon that they're well connected with some of the security forces around here. I'm sick of seeing how they behave in front of police officers, pretending to be nice guys.

As soon as the police officers leave, though, they abuse the vendors. There seems to be a conspiracy between them, so it's better to get rid of hoodlums completely.

I'm sure that journalists alone will not be capable of getting rid of the hoodlums -- who can only expose their existence to the public, but his won't be quite enough to stop them. Besides, journalists lack the physical strength to fight the hoodlums.

The police officers and the community should work hand-in-hand in their fight against the hoodlums, who need to be reintroduced to society.

If after being rehabilitated, they continue to work as thugs, perhaps the most effective way is just to kill them. Give them a chance first to improve their behavior; if that fails, then they're better off dead so decent people in town are safe.

-- Leo Wahyudi S.