In light of the death of Alawy Yusianto Putra, caused by an attack by students from the SMAN 70 high school on students at SMUN 6, pundits as usual decry the growing violence of Indonesian youths. The usual suspects, such as absent parents, the media’s glorification of violence, bad traditions, peer pressure, and the lack of thorough moral education will be discussed and debated endlessly.
There is, however, a missing actor in the discussion, notably law enforcement.
Take a quick walk around the neighborhood and it is easy these days to spot children riding their motorcycles carelessly, without helmets. It is also easy to find three of them riding on a single motorbike. They even do this in front of passing police patrols, and the police do nothing to fix this.
It could be argued that the police are simply overwhelmed; that there are simply too many people disregarding the law, and that it is impossible to arrest them all. At the same time, however, such flouting of the rules of the road does not happen all of a sudden. It happens slowly, with a few people going unpunished, and the others simply following suit. Before long, the community thinks of it as something normal, something that police don’t try to stop anyway.
The police don’t crack down on this because of various reasons. The locals notice this. By not stopping these careless actions, people in the community think that the police simply don’t care. The end result, however, is that people no longer have an incentive to obey the traffic laws.
This same logic could be applied to how the police handle brawls among students. It would have been impossible to stage such a blatant out-in-the-open fight, such as the one between SMAN 70 and SMAN 6 that is currently being spotlighted in the media, had there been police presence in the area in the first place. It would be impossible to have a standing tradition of open fights between SMAN 70 and SMAN 6 had the police arrested students at the outset.
Part of the police’s hesitation to intervene in these fights might be from indifference, the belief that “boys will be boys.” Some might think that fights among students are simply a normal rite of passage for students. The view that seems to be commonly held is that it is OK to have fights as long as nobody dies.
It is no longer uncommon to listen to news radio such as Elshinta and hear warnings from citizens to avoid a particular street because students from two schools are involved in a fight. What is fascinating about the entire episode is the fact that the news announcers are generally unfazed; more concerned about the status of the traffic than whether someone was injured or killed. What was even more interesting was the fact that neither the announcers nor the “concerned” citizens discussed the need to call the police to arrest those who were involved and responsible.
Another reason that the police might not intervene in these matters is that many of the students involved have well-connected parents.
VivaNews reported that SMAN 70 received Rp 15 billion ($1.5 million) annually in donations. Simply arresting those involved in the brawls might create some awkward moments for these high-society parents, who might then use their influence to force the police to impose a “slap-on-the-wrist” punishment, even though news reports stated that many of the students were seen bringing sharp weapons to their fights.
Therefore, it is sad to say that in spite of Alawy Yusianto Putra’s untimely death, life will go on.
Fights will remain a rite of passage for students, and police will continue to pretend that they don’t happen.
The violence might slow down or even stop for now, due to the media attention, but as time goes on the fights will restart and the circle of violence will recommence.
That is, unless society starts saying that enough is enough; that there should be a stop to the brawls. And the police should intervene to prevent and stop student brawls and arrest those responsible.
Yohanes Sulaiman is a lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University (Unhan).