Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Looters and Violence

Forgive me for revisiting the situation in Haiti, but it just happens to be the most visible current crisis from which we can learn vital lessons about survival after a disaster.

The report is that the main prison in Port au Prince, Haiti's capital city, was so severely damaged by the 7.0 earthquake that more than 4,000 prisoners escaped into the city and surrounding areas. Life is tough enough on the streets of a city in crisis without introducing thousands of felons into the desperate population.

Truth be told, even in the best of times, not all the criminals are behind bars. There is always a percentage of the populace that is prone to thievery and violence. But when a disaster hits, looting, robbery, mugging, assault, murder and all manner of violence and theft take place. It just goes with the territory. And in a country such as Haiti, where corruption is prevalent in the government (maybe I shouldn't throw stones, since our own house is made of such fragile glass right at the moment), the public moral climate is so impoverished that a relatively high percentage of the population feels justified in taking what is not theirs.

Now, I'm not picking on Haiti. This happens in any society where there has been a loss of moral compass, and out own country is no different. You can gauge the integrity of the people by their actions during a disaster. The good people will be good. They will try to stabilize their own situation, and then look around and see if there is someone else in need whom they can help. The bad people will be bad. They will look around and see what there is to grab for themselves, and then will not spare anyone who gets in their way.

If you think I'm being overly dramatic, let me quote a report from Foxnews.com. "Some neighborhoods are creating their own security forces, forming night brigades and machete-armed mobs to fight bandits. 'We never count on the government here, never,' said 29-year-old Tatony Vieux in a hillside district where people used cars to block access to their street. In the sprawling Cite Soleil slum, gangsters are reassuming control after escaping from the city's notorious main penitentiary and police urge citizens to take justice into their own hands. 'If you don't kill the criminals, they will all come back,' a Haitian police officer shouted over a loudspeaker." (italics and bold are mine)

Now if that doesn't make you stop and take notice, I don't know what will. The police are telling the public to kill the criminals, because the police are not able to contain the situation themselves. In fact, more than 8,000 military troops have been brought in from other countries to help maintain order. That means a lot of money and energy is being wasted on security, because of the lawlessness of the people of Haiti.

I'm not saying the victims of the quake are criminals, but there is a high percentage of criminals among the populace. The sad truth is that a population in crisis will reap exactly what it has sown. If the society accepts a corrupt government, it will reap corruption. If it tolerates criminal activity, it will suffer lawlessness. If it embraces a lack of moral foundation, it will garner violence and hatred and greed and bloodshed. And when the disaster hits, all those characteristics are amplified. Normal everyday criminal activity evolves into a monster that will tear apart the society. When folks ought to be helping each other, the criminals and corrupt government officials will help only themselves.

Maybe this should be a wake-up call to all of us to put our own house in order. It's only a matter of time before we face crises of our own, and if we don't want to go through what we're seeing in Haiti, maybe we should prepare ourselves. We can start by discarding the corrupt and criminal elements from all levels of our government, establish a judiciary that is not afraid to eliminate criminals from our society, and set our feet again on a foundation of moral principles. It's been way too long. Way, way, way too long.

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