Today I was going to write about my Democratic values and what they means to me. Fortunately you have been given a reprieve. Instead, I will relate a nasty incident that happened to me not more than a couple of hours ago and ask your opinion on a moral dilemma.
Lunchtime today I was minding my own business, having lunch in a fast food restaurant when a man came in. A rough sort with a skin-head and workman’s clothing. He sat down at the adjacent table and started to hurl abuse at the person sitting opposite me. When that person got up and left the restaurant, he rounded on me throwing verbal abuse (which I shall not repeat here) and then bits of his food at me and then asking me to apologise for it.
I merely said ‘I have nothing to apologise for’ and tried to ignore him. He went on with his abuse and proceeded to ask me if he should apologise. Sensing trouble I simply told him his apology was unwanted.” and continued to ignore him.
He had up until this point been eating like some vile animal with it all over his hands. He was slurring his speech and acting erratically. He then started throwing it in my direction. He was drunk or high on drugs and he was clearly not thinking properly and slurring his words. Every thing he said was abusive and nasty. He then started throwing his whole tray of food as well as an unrepeatable string of abuse. Then he started getting agitated when I asked him politely to stop and jumped up on his seat hurling a tray of food. At this point I had to push past him and call security. The mangers came and restrained him. They in turn called the police and the man was restrained and arrested.
I was asked to give a statement with a view to prosecution.
It took an hour and a half plus a further half hour of waiting around, so the whole incident took some two and half hours.
The Police clearly wished to press charges. I didn’t.
Why, you may ask?
Well here is the moral dilemma:
The man was plainly drunk, or high, or both. He was clearly not of sound mind and had no cogent deliberate malicious intent. I did not know his circumstances though I could simply assume he was a builder who had a drink problem and had been binging all morning before stopping off for some food. He was clearly threatening, though a combination of my quick thinking and the police response clearly prevented any harm being done. It could have been far worse and it could have been a vulnerable member of society who was abused or hurt.
Was I tempted to retaliate to his physical threats?
Of course; but the balance of probability was that I would only have been implicated in a fracas that would have landed me under arrest. I was sober and cogent, he wasn’t. Clearly I had an advantage in those circumstances that the ugly runt didn’t.
Of course I disliked the guy, but I didn’t want to make it personal. I could have been anyone in the restaurant, so I wanted to be arbitary about it. A cool-off and some help with his problem was in my mind sufficient warning to him and a reminder to act appropriately in public.
So I made the police statement, making it clear in no uncertain terms that I did not wish to press charges (I had after all only suffered verbal abuse and some minor food stains) and that I believed the man needed help rather than a fine and a criminal record.
The Police tried to convince me otherwise in that there is only really one method of handling disorderly people and that was to throw them upon a judges mercy. A bit harsh for a simply disorder offence.
Now do not get me wrong. I didn’t like the fellow. I had no sympathy for him, but on balance neither did I know his circumstances, nor what had given rise to his behaviour. Had he just lost his job? Had his wife left him? Was he suffering from alcoholism or a drug addiction? Was he simply the nastiest person I’ve encountered in broad daylight?Without all of the facts I certainly could not justify having someone hauled off to court on account of a ‘moment of madness’ with all the long-term problems that might add to his situation, when there might be other reasons, all of this being really only be cry for help.
I did say that I would change my plea if other circumstances came to light and this wasn’t an isolated case. This seems to hold no water in our legal system, which seems to want to brutally apply the full force of the law at every turn. Hints were dropped (which clearly they should not have been) and clearly this man had a past record. I know he was taken away, that it took five police officers to restrain him and to get him into a police cell and that he would be there a good few hours before they eventually thought to release him. God knows what reminders he got not to behave badly.
What I got was a computer illiterate PC with an inability to spell and a talent for creative writing who I had to firmly reign in. It is easy to see how ‘justice’ can easily become state retribution if you don’t stand your ground.
I hope that is a lesson enough, but it seems my view is not the one held by others.
What was interesting was that two Muslims guys on the other side of the same restaurant instantly started to blame me for the whole affair, on no evidence other than their own opinions that I should simply have ‘run away’ rather than ignoring the guy! I then pointed out that my belongs and my lunch was over there and they became less interested but no less convinced, despite the man standing on his chair throwing food about and threatening physical violence in front of dozens of witnesses.
So, do you think I was right to act as I did?
To state that I did not wish to bring charges, or do you think I should have taken the matter as far as it would go, bearing in mind that I would make a ‘friend for life’ doing it?
People like this should be given help. Prosecuting them doesn’t help them; that’s my view.
Please understand I am not afraid of taking the hard option, but I do believe in fairness and in giving people a second chance. Zero tolerance leads to mistakes and damaging lives for the sake of a few harsh words and actions are no balance of justice.