raphael_vassallo
Raphael Vassallo

Ah yes, those pesky foreigners again

We can’t be selective about which public street brawls to be appalled by

raphael_vassallo
Raphael Vassallo
1 August 2017, 7:30am
At a press conference Chris Said highlighted the lack of security as a prominent public concern
At a press conference Chris Said highlighted the lack of security as a prominent public concern
And there I was, thinking that the biggest problem posed by Chris Said’s bid for PN leader was... his surname. In particular, how awkward it makes things for journalists wishing to quote what ‘Chris Said said’.

See? It’s happening already. My word processor’s inbuilt Grammar Nazi application has flagged that as a mistakenly repeated word. And the leadership contest hasn’t even begun in earnest yet. What’s going to happen when what ‘Said said’ becomes the dominant headline in every newspaper for weeks on end? And more to the point: how can that be sustained in the event that he goes on to become PN leader... possibly even (who knows?) Prime Minister? 

It will be chaos, mark my words. Already, journalists feel they have to resort to suitable alternatives to the past perfect form of the verb ‘to say’: ‘Said stated’, ‘Said declared’, ‘Said remarked’, ‘Said observed’, ‘Said uttered’, ‘Said opined’, ‘Said gave verbal expression to the sentiment that...’ and so on and so forth. Sooner or later, we’re going to exhaust the full gamut of synonyms. We’re going to need a bigger thesaurus. 

It’s all very unreasonable, when you think that the former Gozo minister could easily spare us all that hassle by simply changing his name. Go on, Chris, don’t be selfish. Just think of the possible advantages: after all, if John Wayne’s career never waned, it was partly because he adopted a stage same to replace ‘Marion Mitchell Morrison’. (Or how about Dick Van Dyke? You don’t think his parents really named him after slang-terms for both the human male genital organ and a lesbian... with a large automobile rammed in between?)   

But still: if Said is too attached to his family surname to ever contemplate letting it go... the least he could do is just not say anything at all between now and the leadership election. This way, not only would journalists be spared the added inconvenience of thinking up new and original synonyms every time he opens his mouth... but Chris Said himself might not have to be quoted uttering such bizarre inanities as the ones he spouted this week, in response to a violent street brawl in Bugibba.    

What was it again? “Roaming security patrols, new legislation and the practice to name and shame need to be introduced to handle the rising ‘pack’ criminality in localities like Bugibba, St Paul’s Bay, Qawra and Swieqi [...] It is well known that many foreigners live in these localities and this is not a problem as long as everyone obeys the law...” [but] “...a group of foreigners felt they could terrorise all law-abiding residents in these localities...”

Ah yes, those pesky foreigners again: always stirring up trouble in this otherwise perfectly peaceful and utterly violence-free country of ours, aren’t they? In fact, you can always tell there are foreigners about, when great unsightly punch-ups suddenly break out bang in the heart of our most heaving entertainment areas. As if any pure, thoroughbred Maltese citizen would ever resort to such uncivilised (and obviously alien) behaviour. I mean, the very idea that a fellow countryman would even dream about throwing a punch... or up-ending a table... or breaking a bottle over someone’s head... or, worse still, ganging up on a hapless victim and literally beating him to a pulp before a throng of passive onlookers... 

No, don’t be absurd. This sort of thing simply never, ever happened in Malta before... before, that is, we were overrun by organised street gangs of foreign hoodlums and thugs. So I suppose we should really be thankful to Chris Said, for volunteering to lead all those sorely-needed local mobs armed with torches, pitchforks and scythes.

Anyway: that was what Said said last Thursday... i.e., a couple of days after two men from Syria were arrested over the selfsame Bugibba brawl. Interestingly, however, he made no mention at all of another street fight that had only just been made public the day before: this time in Paceville, and featuring two pesky foreigners – one from Syria, the other Jordan – being savagely beaten by six Maltese bouncers outside a local nightclub.

Footage of this incident was uploaded onto Facebook on Tuesday – the day before Said’s Bugibba press conference – but the assault itself actually took place last May. Reportedly, one of the victims is still in danger of losing his sight as a result of his injuries.

Not to compare street fights, or anything... but already you can see a small chink in Said’s reasoning here. If the Bugibba fracas (rightly) raises security concerns... how are we to respond to an equally public example of street violence which left two people so severely injured? Shouldn’t this also be included in a list of concerns regarding “the right of all residents – be they Maltese or foreigners – to live peacefully without any fear or intimidation?” 

I ask this because Chris Said was actually correct to highlight the lack of security as a prominent public concern. (Note: whether he is also right in his proposals is another question which I won’t bother with for now.) I’ve lived here all my life, and I can confirm that that, at a certain level, entertainment areas like Paceville or Bugibba do not feel all that ‘safe’ as an environment to be in. Oh, I won’t contest all those surveys naming Malta as ‘one of the safest countries in the world’. Statistically, we probably are. But statistics also suggest that air travel is by far the safest means of transport known to man. How much safer would that make you feel, if you happen to be trapped in the only plane out of several million to actually defy statistics, and crash? 

It’s the same with street fights. If one does break out right next to you, you will, at best, instantly lose your peace of mind and sense of personal safety; at worst (and I know of specific cases) you might be permanently maimed by a flying projectile or flailing limb. And that’s if you’re a bystander: just imagine how much less ‘safe’ you would feel, if it were YOU those six or more individuals (of whatever nationality) were after...?

But this is why we can’t be selective about which public street bawls to be appalled by, and which to conveniently ignore. In the eyes of anyone who has frequented Paceville at any time in the past 30 years at least, the footage of those six bouncers beating up those two foreigners was actually far more representative of a typical Maltese street-fight than its Bugibba equivalent (which – not to minimise the event, or anything – looked more in the nature of a one-off brawl than a regular occurrence). 

Without entering into the merits of exactly how or why this particular Paceville beating came about... the way it unfolded reminded me of literally dozens of similar ‘fights’ I have seen taking place there with my own two eyes. The blueprint can succinctly be summed up as: ‘several individuals ganging up on one or two victims, and literally kicking them to pieces’.  

And it’s not the only difference between the two scenarios, either. In the Bugibba brawl, arrests were made just hours after the event... i.e., before Said made his public complaint about the ‘powerlessness’ of law-enforcement agencies to cope with such incidents.  In the Paceville case, however, arrests had to wait until the footage was made public months later. Yet the police reportedly investigated the crime immediately after it occurred: “The incident unfolded at about 6.00am, with the police being informed about an hour later. Upon arriving at the scene, a 29-year-old Syrian man and 33-year-old Jordanian man were found to be suffering from grievous injuries, and were conveyed to Mater Dei Hospital for treatment...”

For one thing, it strikes me as odd that the police themselves seemed to have no access to the CCTV footage at the time of the assault. I was under the impression it would be a standard part of the investigation process. For another, even without the footage, the fight took place in front of several eyewitnesses. Just by interviewing the victims they could easily have identified at least the Paceville establishment which employed those bouncers.  That would narrow down the list of suspects considerably.

There may, of course, be perfectly legitimate explanations for the police’s failure to nab the suspects on this particular occasion. Perhaps I’ve witnessed too many similar occurrences in my lifetime, and have grown cynical. But I just don’t see the same commitment to law enforcement when it comes to arresting Maltese people suspected of beating up pesky foreigners. 

Another thing I don’t really see (and the Paceville footage brought this home all-too vividly) is any real improvement to the standards of public security offered by the entertainment venues themselves. 

This is not, after all, the first time that much-publicised incidents have prompted calls for such things as registers for bouncers and/or other security personnel. Naturally, I don’t want to lump the entire category into the same basket... like I said, I’ve seen a lot go on in Paceville over the years: and amazingly, that includes individual cases of bouncers actually doing their job properly and professionally. 

But I would have thought that – after three decades of similar experiences unfolding with depressing regularity in that one district alone – the entire entertainment sector would eventually cotton on to the importance of finally pulling its socks up. There are certain very basic realisations that have so far only been made by a handful of establishments: for instance, that ‘homicidal tendencies’ and a ‘reputation for violence’ do not actually make very good qualifications for a bouncer. Not in the 21st century, at any rate. And certainly not in a sector that relies on high levels of safety and security for its own survival.

So yes, Chris Said certainly has a point when he argues that new measures are needed to bolster street-level security. But we’ve needed those measures for years, if not decades... and as much to protect us from our own brutish misbehaviour, as from that of any number of ‘pesky foreigners’.