When Hindsight is Eight Bodies and a Murderer

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The French criminologist Alexandre Lacassagne has this to say about crime: “Justice shrivels up, prison corrupts and society has the criminals it deserves.”  Hindsight is 20/20; in this case, eight bodies and a murderer.

The police could have secured and cordoned off the region, and equipped the team with the proper tools.  The media could have coordinated with the police to get the best possible coverage without undue interference.  The President could have appeared earlier to address the issue, not to catalog facts in the dead of night.  All of these exist in the conditional tense; the “could have been’s” and the “what if’s” of a situation gone horribly tragic.

Whatever drove Rolando Mendoza to hold tourists hostage, and to start shooting them afterward in an act of madness, is something he took with him to his grave.  We’ll never know the method to madness, unless we grow mad ourselves.  Yet what we can evaluate and speculate about, at this point, is the madness from otherwise sane people: police using sledgehammers on the bus doors and windows, the media who covered the incident shoving cameras and microphones everywhere, and the authorities who failed to exercise control.

The “could have been’s” and “what if’s” dwell on the things magnified by high drama.  The lack of police training and equipment, the overt disregard of restraint and prudence by some members of the media, and the Government conspicuous by its absence in crucial and critical moments, are things that were already there in the first place.

Every instance of crime – whether it’s murder, a hostage situation, or robbery – should highlight a dysfunction in institutions that keep and maintain social order.  In this case, those dysfunctions were magnified, underscored, highlighted, spread, and emphasized.  Like the grief, indignation, outrage, and anger that followed the bungled incident.

What makes this tragic – and what makes all tragedy, Shakespearean or Sadistic – was that the plot, given the tableau and the scene, will have a heart-wrenching ending.  What could we expect from people whose sense of justice comes from the barrel of a gun?  What could have we expected from an ill-equipped police force, a media force that wasn’t reined in and allowed to intrude, or a Government that was taking too long to scale the learning curve?

The blame for this rests solely on the institutions of control, for the fact that they did not exercise that duty.  They could have secured the area to make sure the media doesn’t penetrate the hotspot.  They could have prepared themselves enough to face the situation head on, without having to bungle right then and there.  They could have broadcast a statement to appease the people, instead of showing off poor tactics in front of an international audience.  It didn’t happen, and a tragic incident unfolded.  The system, out of our control as it already is, spiralled further out of control.

What makes it even more tragic is that despite the often-toxic blame games that take place, the “could have been’s” and “what if’s” are all painfully obvious.

A catalog of solutions follows.  One would be to reform the police: to train them properly, to provide them with the right equipment to deal with extreme situations, and to compensate them properly.  One would be for the media organizations to come together to create protocol that satisfies the coverage of extreme situations without being intrusive.  One would be for This Government to grow a backbone to face the people without the benefit of messaging or tactics, and to exercise command responsibility and most of all, the ability to command.

When we surrendered ourselves before the judgment of the international community, we can only hope it’s for the best.  If Emile Durkheim was correct to say that crime serves the function of being a prelude to reforms, then for our institutions, the reforms are urgent and extreme.

Yet we can’t expect it to: not here, where hindsight became eight bodies and a murderer.

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