Killing of dog thieves: lynch mobs portend anarchy

TN News

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  On October 23 a motorbike was burned down by locals in Vinh Town in the central province of Nghe An, and its rider was beaten unconscious for allegedly stealing dogs. Photo: Tuoi Tre

On October 25 some people in Dong Hoi Town in the central province of Quang Binh beat two men unconscious and set fire to their motorbike for allegedly stealing dogs in the neighborhood.

This is nothing new in Vietnam where, in many instances, mobs have killed actual or suspected dog thieves without waiting for the law.

Why people take the law into their own hands is obvious: it is because official agencies have failed to stop the epidemic of dog thefts for selling to restaurants and slaughterhouses.

Worse still, dog thieves attack and even kill owners when confronted. In a recent case, an official from the People's Committee Office in the northern province of Bac Ninh was shot dead when he chased after two men who had stolen his dog.

So it is understandable that people are venting their anger against the dog thieves. But then hundreds of people killing or assaulting someone they accuse, sometimes wrongly, of stealing dogs and stopping the police and ambulances from taking the victims to the hospital is reminiscent of lynch mobs in world history.

It reminds me of lynching, which was common in the US during the late 19th century after the Civil War. The horrible punishment, often by hanging, was meted out by mobs to people they accused of committing crimes.

Others like the brutal, racist Ku Klux Klan in the US and the witch hunts in Europe and North America in centuries gone by were similar in nature: mobs carrying out what they believe to be justice, regardless of the legislative and judicial systems in place.

Many international studies say that such extrajudicial executions usually happen when societies fall into anarchy and governments are no longer able to ensure security.

For instance, after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti more than 40 people were reported to be executed by mobs for allegedly spreading cholera. The lynching occurred because the government could not control society any more, and people lost trust in the government after the natural disaster killed at least 250,000.

The increasing incidence of mobs executing dog thieves is evidence that people are losing trust in local authorities, and that they are anxious and outraged by the rash of dog thefts.

The anxiety and loss of trust in authorities seem to be spreading. The media reported recently that people, having lost confidence in the police, are arming themselves to deal with robbers who are increasingly resorting to violence when confronted.

If the government does not improve its functioning, starting with enforcing laws, social unrest will ensue sooner or later.

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