21 OCTOBER 1972, Page 3

Eschew leniency

' Mugging ' is one of those somewhat playful-sounding names, like flagging,' under which thoroughly nasty behaviour is camouflaged. The euphemistic approach to unpleasant matters is nothing new — the Greeks always had nicer words available for them — and it is always comforting. The human inclination to turn a blind eye, to avert gaze, to pinch nose, to pretend that things are not as bad as they are, is as old as the civilised conversation of mankind itself. Nevertheless, although there may well be much to be said for euphemistic descriptions of bodily functions which the human species Shares with the rest of the animal kingdom, there is nothing to be said for such descriptions when they are applied to characteristic human behaviour of a nastiness not found elsewhere in nature. 'Mugging' is robbery with violence, it is causing grievous bodily harm, it is unjustifiable and MhlitiOUs cruelty. It has become endemic in the larger American cities, where its most enthusiastic practitioners have been blacks. This fact has lent the practice a peculiar kind of liberal respectability.

624 There is growing evidence that we have a new outbreak of vicious hooliganism on our hands, and we will be wasting our 631 time if we bother overmuch about the perpetrators. It May not be their fault that they are so weak and so susceptible to passing fashion that when a new wave of infection comes in they succumb easily, and take up their coshes, knives, chains and the like. Part of the thugs' desire to beat up old people and steal from them may be to take it out on a society which they believe has served them badly, or has gone rotten. In the recent past, it has often seemed that we. have got our priorities the wrong way round and, in our humane concern for the culprit, have forgotten that it is the prime job of any government to maintain the peace, protect the innocent, and punish those who do evil. It has often seemed that we have thought more about the problems of the violent than the protection of the peaceful. Were we to be threatened with an epidemic of small-pox, we would not hesitate to isolate those who had caught the disease, however sorry we might be for them. We are threatened with an epidemic of violence; and the Way to prevent it is to isolate the violent thugs by putting (them away, quickly, before the outbreak becomes an epidemic.

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In dealing with muggings, the authorities should act as swiftly, and sentence as severely, as the law allows. If civilisation as we know it is to go under, it will be because private violence will have become respectable, orthodox, even heroic and praiseworthy. It is not difficult to see the skin-deep attractions of the argument of youngsters, that the State is violent and commits violent acts and that therefore private individuals are entitled to be violent and commit violent acts. It is a false and feeble argument. The State within its territory by and large protects the weak and, by and large, inflicts violence only upon predators: the State must be violent and commit acts of violence against those who are themselves violent within it rot against it. Here, it is not a question so much of the rights and wrongs of it, or the causes of the violent outbreaks, or even of who or what is responsible — any more than it would be with an outbreak of small-pox. It is the job of the Government, indeed of the whale machinery of government, including the police and the courts, to act to stamp out these outbreaks of violence with as much despatch as it would act 0 to stamp out an epidemic. We do not want 'mugging' to be o come an everyday occurrence, a bit of a joke, the topic of corn monplace conversation here, as it has become in America. The way to prevent this is to eschew leniency in the treatment meted out to those who employ physical violence for fun or for greed.