Big Brother is not the answer

Earlier this week, a fight in Paceville almost took away the life of a teenager. The injuries were allegedly inflicted by foreigners.

Almost immediately, the cries of “give the streets back to the Maltese” and the equally predictable “see where being nice to migrants gets us” started. A very logical reaction, because clearly no Maltese has ever stabbed/shot/beaten up anyone.

Sarcasm apart, my heart goes out to the injured teen and his family. But this increasing xenophobia and the resulting division between “us and them” are certainly not helping.

Still, this is not the point of today’s post. The incident also (rightly) caused a reaction from St Julian’s mayor Peter Bonello, who  yesterday called for the introduction of CCTV surveillance and a heftier police presence in the more notorious Paceville hotspots.

Although not the worst of ideas, even if these measures are perfectly implemented, they are unlikely to make a significant impact on the statistics.

CCTV footage is only useful after the fact, and the presence of cameras is unlikely to deter someone who is spoiling for a fight after a marathon drinking session. Human nature being what it is, people tend to swing a blow first and then worry about possible cameras later.

As for requesting more visible police presence, scores of officers are already very much in evidence at specific spots in Paceville. Do we really want to transform what in theory is a relaxed hangout area into something that looks like a scene from 1984? And, equally importantly, do we have the manpower for it?

The problem that has become Paceville will not be solved unless we tackle the roots, which seem to be threefold.

  • Those who indulge in drunken brawls do not take the law seriously.
  • Parents of minors who end up being sick on people’s porches and feet do not take the law seriously.
  • An amount of bar/club owners who continue serving drinks to those they shouldn’t do not take the law seriously.

Those who behave badly are unlikely to be deterred by the idea of getting busted, for the simple reason that even when they are they don’t care anyway. Most likely they will get off with a fine – if that – unless they come within an inch of beating someone to death.

Which is why under-aged kids who spend their weekends in Paceville don’t worry about getting caught. They can just try their luck at the next bar. The parents worry even less, because they are not made to shoulder any responsibility. In the rest of Europe, if a 15-year-old is caught trying to get into a bar at 2am the parents get a visit by social services.

Which is also why every weekend, groups of teens get drunk off their faces on the doorsteps of so-called bottle shops. Just try doing that in some other country’s nightspot (Berlin’s Kollwitzplatz/Dublin’s Temple Bar/London’s Soho or wherever) and see where it gets both you and the shop owner.

Which is also why some bar and club owners continue serving alcohol even when it’s an obviously bad idea to do so. Again, in other countries most bars run a strict policy; patrons who are way out of their depth don’t get served more alcohol, simple. This is because in the case of any fallout, management gets a good portion of blame.

And finally, this is also why not even those involved in scuffles or worse are particularly bothered about the law. Even when the police arrive on the spot in time, unless the fight is a pretty serious one chances are that the culprits will get away with a slap on the wrist or a fine. Again, this behaviour gets you permanently banned from most nightspots abroad.

What price CCTV surveillance and more police officers, unless everyone is made to take the law a bit more seriously?

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