The other night, while we were making dinner, Missy ran into the kitchen and told me to come out to the balcony. I could hear yelling in the streets, so I rushed out to see what was going on. Missy said that a man had been beaten and left in the street. He was lying motionless in the middle of the road while people stared from a distance. Finally, someone went over and nudged him with their foot and he began to move. Moody could hear what people were saying on the street and told us that the man had stolen a can of beer, which is why he had been beaten up.
When we were assured that the man was ok and had limped off, we sat down to dinner and discussed the type of “justice” that exists here in Tanzania. The police are not a particularly trustworthy bunch here – they can be bribed to do just about anything if you have the cash. I asked Moody what the police think of citizens taking justice into their own hands – and he said that the police encouraged it, because it means that they don’t have to deal with bringing them into the station. He said that thieves (if they are caught) are lucky to get away with their life – because they are often beaten to death or sometimes even set on fire in the streets. At first I thought it was kind of comforting or endearing that your neighbours would come to your rescue if they knew you were a victim of a crime. That since the police can not be counted on to deliver justice, then the community will take it upon themselves. But then I began to wonder – is it really justice if a man is beaten to death for stealing a can of beer? Or set on fire in the middle of the street for stealing a cell phone? Or stoned to death in the market for stealing a loaf of bread?
You would think that this type of punishment would deter people from stealing – and perhaps it does, but there still seems to be a rampant amount of crime here. I sincerely hope that I am not witness to this vigilantism before I leave – I think I would truly be scarred for life.