Several months ago, I spoke about a new way in which social media can help us in the struggle against street violence: by means of some good old ‘naming and shaming’! I called it Crime and Punishment in the Digital Age, because nothing gets my juices flowing like making references to dead and boring Russian authors. But in retrospect, this title seems to have been a little premature.
Just to recap: the article was about surveillance footage that went viral in the first months of 2013. On the night of January 4th, eight scumbags launched a needless and vicious attack on a young man who was just passing them by in the street. Without any apparent cause or warning, several individuals in the group mercilessly beat the man to a pulp. One despicable individual in particular, Brent Leysen, continued to kick the victim as he lay defenseless on the ground, an undeniable attempt at cold-blooded murder. The video sparked an outrage and this is where social media stepped in and managed to identify the assailants, who were all arrested shortly after. It was during these weeks that the neologism Kopschopper (lt.: ‘Headkicker’) became the default phrase used to label people who commit acts of pointless and harsh violence.
Here’s something to refresh our collective memory:
But as the Dutch soccer legend Johan Cruijff famously said: “Elk nadeel heb z’n voordeel.” This means as much as: “To every disadvantage its advantage”, though slightly less eloquent. In other words: always expect a counter-move. The great success achieved by social media in first bringing attention to this brutal crime and then helping to identify the scumbags has back-fired on us. Because when the verdict was passed on the perpetrators earlier this week, the judge took into account that the release of the surveillance footage has impacted the lives of the aggressors. Since they were exposed before a legal judgment was passed, and because these criminals have stated that they have been harassed ever since (Oh heavens, please tell me it isn’t so!), the court has decided to give more lenient punishments. So paradoxically, helping to bring people to justice seems to be precisely what prevents justice from being delivered. The member worst of the group, the before mentioned Brent Leysen, received a sentence of only ten months in juvenal detention.
I’ll leave you a moment to let that sink in: a minor repeatedly kicks an innocent man in the head as he lays unconscious on the ground, and all he gets is less than a measly year behind bars. Who needs a perfect crime with repercussions like that?
The lawyer of one of the said aggressors shrugged the attack off with a mere “Meh, **** happens all the time” and complained about this particular event getting an unreasonable amount of attention. This, as you may have noticed already, is not an argument against exposing these eight scumbags, but is in fact only an argument against not exposing all the other scumbags who are out there. Which is why it is good news that the Public Prosecution Service will continue to release images of similar crimes in the future.
While it is true that the sentences were low for two other reasons, (because most of the accused were minors and because all have stated their remorse), I can’t help but feel that we have been cheated out (not for the first time). The on-line manhunt was a tremendous success, not only in helping the authorities to identify and locate the suspects, but also in providing deterrence for other people who are inclined to these vicious crimes. As I’ve said before, all of this is more proof that in the digital age, power is more easily transferred to individuals, for the paradoxical reason that individuals can more easily connect and work together with others.
But since exposure is punishment and punishment hasn’t been enough, here’s that awful picture of Team Scumbag one more time. As they say on the Interwebz: NEVAR FORGET!