Thursday, June 10, 2010

Self-Inflicted Justice

I am not a proponent of the death penalty. I don't have that much confidence in government to get it right. In addition I think there is a tendency to apply it in situations where it is entirely inappropriate. But when justice is self-inflicted, I can't complain, just comment about karma and smile.

One major case of self-inflicted justice was the death of Dan White. You will remember that White assassinated San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone. He also wanted to murder one of my favorite leftists, and friend, Carol Ruth Silver. White's deed went relatively unpunished. He claimed diminished capacity from eating too many Twinkies, and literally walked out of prison after a short time. He then had the bad taste to return to San Francisco and eventually killed himself in his garage. That was self-inflicted justice and I couldn't complain.

But, perhaps one of my favorite examples of this, and what would have been a contender for the Darwin Award, took place outside Krugersdorp, a town not far from Johannesburg, in South Africa. There is a Lion and Rhino Game Reserve outside the town, one that I visited on several occasions. I would drive in from the backside, which was easier access from where I was living.

The road to the park was fairly isolated and mostly uninhabited. On the left side of the road was the entrance to the main park, but on the right were a few compounds for animals as well as a water area for hippos and crocs. You could actually walk down the pathways to the area on the right and view things without paying an admission fee since this was technically outside the park and they didn't try to police admission there. Across the road was the small guard house where you would pay admission to the main park.

I would almost always visit both areas, though I did stop once just to go through the free area because I was with an American friend who had a train to catch and there wasn't time to drive into the park.

The relative isolation of the area meant that the criminals, who are running rampant in South Africa, could stage armed robberies there on a regular basis. No one would see it and the single guard at the gate was easily overpowered and he had lots of cash from people paying admission fees. So the place was robbed with amazing regularity. Now, if you knew how violent robbers were in South Africa you would grow to hate them. I experienced such attacks myself and they are brutal. One friend told how his partner's mother, a very elderly woman, found robbers in her home. She was quite weak and frail and couldn't do anything to harm them. They pushed her to the ground and then jumped up and down on her legs to break them so she couldn't move. Charming. So, such people don't get much sympathy from me.

Apparently one day a robber decides to hold up the admission gate at the Lion and Rhino Park, the very gate I mentioned above. He pulls a gun on the guard and demands all the money in the till. As the guard is taking the money out to hand it to the thug, a miracle happens. In an odd, unexpected, and totally unlikely coincidence, a police car drives down this rural, tiny road.

Considering that you are lucky if the South African police bother to show up when they are called, and when they themselves are not the armed robbers, it is such an unlikely coincidence that the robber hadn't even given the matter thought—not that such people are too likely to plan ahead. The robber knows better than running into the park itself, but he can't exactly run down the road either, as the police are in a car and will easily catch him.

So the robber bolts across the road and spots the field on the other side of the fence. He scurries over the tall fence, a skill these thugs practice. They also know the SA police are too lazy to actually pursue them over a fence. I can attest to this, as in one armed attack I called the police who, when they showed up, rang my phone to tell me that they were outside the five foot gate and insisted I had to come outside, where the armed thugs were last seen, to let them in since they refused to climb the gate themselves.

It is true that inside the park there are lions, cheetahs, leopard and rhinos—all very deadly creatures should you get in their way. Our criminal felt very safe on the other side of the road—away from those really nasty animals. Instead, he didn't realize that the fence he climbed over put him in a compound with a very different kind of animal—one not native to Africa at all.

Inside was a magnificent, but very large, Bengal tiger. The robber inadvertently stumbled upon the tiger and the tiger quite happily assumed it had stumbled upon lunch. It set about devouring the man on the spot. Self-inflicted justice. That tiger could have been elected president if he was eligible for office. I swear it is entirely true.

Wild animals were actually loved for their anti-crime activities. Deep inside one of the huge game parks was a small town, I wish I could remember the name of it but it has slipped my mind. The town was entirely surrounded by wilderness and there were no fences separating the town from the animals, just as there are no fences between the lodges you rent in the park and the animals.

When it is light out the dangerous animals would tend to avoid people (hippos and crocs were exceptions). But when it gets dark the animals get a lot braver and will attack humans. Without fences you can bet that when parents told their kids to be home before dark, those kids listened.

Well, the government felt sorry for these people and decided to build a fence around the town to protect them from the wild animals. The town folk were furious. They said that they were safer with the wild animals roaming the streets because it kept the criminals out of town. They refused the fence, preferring the lions on their lawn to the thugs in masks who would break into homes in the dark and slaughter people for a few dollars, or rands as the case may be. Interesting when you consider how people use the "jungle" scenario as a term to describe crime. (For the record, most of Africa is not a jungle, but bush. The jungles you see in Tarzan movies are more Hollywood than Africa.)

Correction: This was written from memory. Since then I was able to locate more information which confirms, and corrects, the basic thrust of my story. There were three robbers that day. Two of them fled on foot. One in a car, and one on foot were arrested. The third man is the one who had jumped the enclosure into the area for the tiger. At first police did not realize he was there. A day after the robbery they were searching the area for a firearm used in the robbery when they were called to the tiger enclosure because the man's body was discovered there. They also found a cellphone and wallet belonging to the guard who was robbed. This apparently took place in 2002.

Photo: Dorothy was right to be worried about lions and tigers and bears, oh my.