This article first appeared on Malta Today
Sometimes all the talk and rhetoric in the world does no good, but then a photo or two can spark something within the public spirit which angers them so much that it swells into one collective sentiment: enough is enough.
I am referring to two photos in two separate criminal cases this week: that involving the underage driver who ran over and seriously maimed a police officer just doing his job, and the photo of the young woman who is allegedly the one who urged a man to carry out a bomb threat hoax, bringing the Gozo channel ferry to a grinding halt for several hours.
In a photo taken prior to the hit-and-run, the underage driver is seen sitting on a car, flipping his middle figure, with the caption “soon on d road”.
The young woman is seen arriving in Court in a police car flashing a wide smile and making the V for Victory sign.
As different as the two cases are (the former is going to be charged with attempted murder while the latter is being charged with complicity to carry out a bomb hoax), the message being transmitted is similar. Defiance in the face of authority. In fact, what they do have in common is that both people are relapsers. It is this message which has resonated so negatively with the public and which has led to such nation-wide outrage that it has wiped out practically every other story this week.
The outrage is understandable; I share in it too. Why should a police officer on duty find himself in ITU, with half his arm amputated along with other serious injuries, just because a young punk wanted to go for a joyride in a Mercedes (which, apparently belongs to a member of his family). Why should commuters be made to suffer just because, as is being alleged, a woman wanted to selfishly get out of a Court hearing (and roped someone else in to do the dirty work in the process)?
There is a pervasive air of disrespect for any form of authority throughout the country and a blatant disregard of law and order which is making the ordinary citizen not only anxious and jittery, but also incredibly angry. Without discipline and adherence to rules in society, what you get is anarchy, and innocent people suffering due to the sheer arrogance and callousness of others.
Following the hit-and-run in which PC Simon Schembri was mowed down and dragged several metres by the underage driver, the two police unions issued a statement in which they said that in Maltese society, there is a general lack of respect and even hatred towards the Police.
Unfortunately, this is not just a perception because heartless comments which appeared on FB following the incident seemed to corroborate this. It has also not helped that for several months, the entire Police Force has been the target of a systematic negative campaign coupled by highly inflammatory accusations which have besmirched their image. Yes, there are some bad apples in the Force, and sometimes the criticism is justified. However, when you tar the entire Force with the same brush, it is not only unfair on those who are exemplary, but it gives rise to the type of shocking remarks we saw this week where some were actually mocking what happened to PC Schembri, and even suggesting that other police officers should be run over as well.
The two incidents have also given rise to the usual finger-pointing, some blame the parents, some the educational system and some the “anything goes” attitude of today’s society.
We have to be uber careful, however, about all these generalizations. Sometimes bad kids happen to good parents, and nothing they can do can set them on the right path.
I would venture to say, however, that whether one is the head of the family or the head of a Government, one has to lead by example. When the common citizen sees building regulations regularly being flouted, when people keep getting away with breaking the law (everything from relatively minor traffic contraventions to manslaughter where people have been killed in traffic accidents due to negligence) and when those who are law-abiding watch as those who are not, are let off scott free, whether it is a serious criminal offence such as domestic violence or a white collar crime such as tax evasion and money-laundering), the end result is the same.
In a society where authority is laughed at, mocked and ridiculed, the inevitable outcome will be what we have today: schools where teachers are unable to control their students because the latter are often coming from homes where discipline is nonexistent. Workplaces where employers are finding it increasingly difficult to find suitable (Maltese) candidates because the latter think they are doing the former some kind of favour simply by showing up to work. A country where the laws exist on paper, but are arrogantly and persistently broken every single day, with little to no repercussions.
It is useless for a nation to have all the money in the world, and yet have citizens who feel vulnerable and unprotected because those who are ruthless, negligent and unfeeling go around doing what the hell they please, confident in the knowledge that at the most, they might get a slap on the wrist. It is time to clamp down on lawlessness all across the board, and the sooner this is done the better. The buck stops with the people at the very top.