Looking a little deeper at vandalism.

In light of the deeply disturbing spate of vandalism that has occured at the Albury Pioneer cemetery this week, it’s worth spending a moment to reflect on the broader implications of the issue.

Albury is certainly no stranger to vandalism attacks, with the spray painting of nazi insignia and other graffiti on the war memorial still in recent memory.

That incident prompted local retailers to tighten security around the sale of aerosol based spray paints, a community minded gesture, but arguably of questionable effect in preventing vandalism given that this most recent attack utilised no spray paint whatsoever.

Of course all the obvious factors have been trotted out, the fact that the incident occured in school holidays, that the cemetery lacks security, and the “no respect for their elders” cliche (despite the fact that no-one has been aprehended over the incident).

To me though, it seems that (as is arguably most crime) vandalism of community property is symptomatic of a greater societal ill.

Of course the Stattler and Waldorf-esque conservative commentators are already crowing for “solutions” like tougher penalties, greater security, more emphasis on family values (whatever that might be) has already begun, such myopic, knee-jerk reactionary band aids are clearly doomed to failure.

Case in point, certain community gardens in China have had problems with decorative stands of bamboo as part of their display being vandalised by people carving their names or whatever in the trunks,  legislation was passed meaning that carving in said bamboo is now punishable by some two weeks imprisonment, has it reduced the icidence? yes, has it eliminated it? not by a long shot.

Such misguided and heavy-handed authoritarian discipline falls a long way short of actually remedying the problem.

Clearly vandalism on community monuments is a deplorable action, indefensible even, nonetheless, I would suggest one fact is abundantly, inescapably clear. That the individuals responsible for these attacks feel some deep sense of disconnection, even resentment with the community, or at least certain sections of it.

At the risk of stating the patently obvious, people who feel part of the community, don’t feel the need to go on rampages of destruction like this. The people responsible for these actions, are the disenfrachised, the disposessed. People our society have wiped our hands of. While we continue to allow things like poverty, substance abuse, child abuse, familial dysfunction and the like to exist within our community, we WILL experience vandalism and other social problems as a result. 

Putting walls and fences up around things that look like they might be vandalised, banning paint, markers and other items that can be used to cause damage, locking away offenders for the term of their natural lives or even re-introducing clamping in the stocks and public floggings is hardly treating the cause, it’s a clear case of slamming the door shut after the horse has well and truly bolted.

As a community we invest a lot of time, effort and energy into recognising things like remembering the war dead and reminiscing about bygone eras, (such as the full colour glossy brochure which arived in my mailbox, chock full of “ANZAC day events” courtesy of populist devotee Greg Aplin, never one to let a cheap publicity oportunity go by unexploited).

Perhaps an ounce of prevention payed in acknowledging and aiding the plight of those in our community who are doing it tough might make for a pound of cure in terms of preventing vandalism and other social problems.

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About alburywodongaonline

Hi I'm Jack Stone (a pseudonym), I'm a long-time Albury resident and I think it's a great place to live and work. I have a strong interest in local events and media and I started this site because I think a different perspective is often needed when reporting local news. I take a keen interest in local politics, as well as what's going on at the state and federal level, I'm also a supporter of social justice issues, the envirionment and the need for people to have a say in the events that effect their lives. I'm a fan of the Border Bandits and I'd love to see both teams take the flag this year, and next year, and maybe the one after that too.
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17 Responses to Looking a little deeper at vandalism.

  1. raydixon says:

    I agree AWOL, a new form of punishment is required for these vandals. Something like this perhaps: http://alpineopinion.wordpress.com/2008/04/17/it-almost-serves-him-right/

  2. Hmm, maybe I didn’t make myself too clear, as I see it, vandalism already IS a punisment, a punishment to the greater community for ignoring and enabling the kinds of social problems that lead to vandalism in the first place.

    As a society we have three options,

    1. increase punishments and other myopic knee-jerk reactions in response to the problem ultimately ending in either a police state or an arrival at the conclusion that vandalism for the most part is an entirely un-policable crime (or more likely both simultaneously).

    2. conclude that vandalism is indeed an un-policable crime and recognise that in itself vandalism is an effect brought about by a cause and to prevent it we must treat that cause (ie people feeling disenfranchised from society).

    3. throw our hands up in the air, tut-tut about “kids today”, waffle some meaningless cliches about “no respect” and hope the problem goes away. Insert “…it wouldn’t happen in MY day” type rant here.

    Obviously the second option is the only one which actually stands a chance of success, however it raises some serious quiestions about the fairness, justness and equality of our so called egalitarian society which I suspect many are unprepared or unwilling (or even incapable) of dealing with.

    Heaven forfend the conservative middle classes might have to shoulder some onus of responsibility that their own selfishness might hold negative consequences for the broader community. Far easier to point the finger of responsibility at the poor piss-on whose had enough of getting the rough end of the pineapple and has decided to hit back (however misguidedly). It’s textbook conservative “blame the victim” foolishness.

    It’s my understanding that this very same cemetary had been using unpaid forced labour (virtual slavery) sourced from a local high-school and people on community service orders. Shortly thereafter the place is vandalised. Co-incidence? Time will tell I guess.

    Incidentally the term “vandal” comes from an eastern Germanic people oppressed and disempowered by the Roman empire. Part of their strategy of civil disobedience was property damage and sabotage. Fast forward a couple of millenia and it seems we have learned absolutely nothing about the misuse of power and it’s inevitable consequences.

  3. raydixon says:

    Hmmm, it all sounds plausible Jack until you realise we’ve got a much better & fairer society than what we’ve ever had, a much better welfare scheme and a much better range of youth support agencies in place.

    In short, what more can we do? And would doing more stop the vandalism? I somehow doubt it.

    Maybe the problem lies in educating parents to be … better parents. That’s where the problems usually stem from. I’ve known kids who could hardly be described as disadvantaged, yet they’ve still vandalised – mainly because their parents didn’t teach them any values.

    And some of those certainly deserved the “Philippines solution”.

    But I don’t wish to diminish the points you’ve made, I just think you’re being a bit too lenient. As for it being ‘unpoliceable’ well, it might help if police actually policed!

  4. I’m hardly advocating a walk for people convicted of vandalism crimes, I’m just saying that people are rarely aprehended and even more rarely convicted. The amount of resources that would be required to build a case from say, forensic evidence just makes prosecuting vandalism type crimes on that basis implausible.
    Surveilance and other security measures are similarly prohibitively costly.
    I realise I didn’t actually spell it out but obviously a good many of the social problems I mentioned are cross-generational.
    As long as we have a society that is based on an “I’m-alright-stuff-you” attitude so many people in our society display and places such a large emphasis on things, posessions and ownership, things like this will continue to happen.

    I realise there will always be individuals who simply enjoy destruction for it’s own sake, people like that will inevitably find it difficult to remain living outside an institution for long.

  5. Kieran Bennett says:

    Calling for tougher controls on spray cans, or tougher penalties, misses the point. This sort of vandalism is symptomatic of the alienation of part of the community. Something I’ve ranted about before.

  6. Thanks Kieran, always reassuring to know that OTHER people see the flying pink elephant too.
    My understanding is that in the case of the cemetery vandalism, most of the gravestones were damaged by being jumped on or kicked.
    Does that mean we are going prevent future incidents by banning footwear too?

  7. H Vyner says:

    I have only just come across this otherwise I would have put in my opinion sooner. Thank you Ray Dixon at least you are voicing the opinions of the majority of people who have come up to me since I was on the front page of the Border Mail with the broken headstones in my hands. To the other writers I wonder what your response would have been if they were your families graves that had been vandalized!! The damage was done by kicking and breaking headstones, then proceeding to smash them down onto the top of the rest of the headstones, to do even more damage. They were even sneaky enough to take them in between 2 higher graves where they could not easily be seen. How can you even try to blame the community for the damage done to the graves is beyond me, this was a calculated attack on the history of this country. Men and women who battled the harsh conditions of our country, people who came out here for a better life than the one they faced in their own country. Most of the damage was to the historical section, but to have the angels smashed off the top children’s graves, is deplorable. I have the headstones of my GGG Grandfathers and Grandmothers and Uncles and their children’s graves at my home, my husband is trying to piece them back together bit by bit as we cannot afford to get them replaced, then again, I would not want to replace them, as the headstones would lose their meaning. The headstones were put there by my ancestors as a memorial to their loved ones lives. These were not just any old Memorials they were Lancelot and Mary Ryan of Wallendool who along with John and Isabella King from Kingsleigh were very prominent and respected citizens of The Riverina for many years. Our convict is also buried in that cemetery. Thankfully his grave was not vandalized this time. I am related to both the Ryan’s and the King’s as are many more from around this area, I think I can speak for all of them. The fact that you blame society as a whole for the damage is a load of rubbish you can’t blame society for everything, these boys need to take responsibility for their actions and you need to take a long hard look at yourself. For intelligent writers you don’t measure up as far as I am concerned, I don’t expect the boys to go to jail as they are young, but there has to be some form of punishment for the damage they have done, maybe community hours in the cemetery as well as being put in the hands of an Historian who will hopefully help them to understand just how much it upsets not only me but all the families who had their ancestors graves damaged by these boys.

  8. What a load of twaddle H Vyner.
    You can stop with the violin, and I’ll pass on the history lesson if it’s all the same.

    I think you’ve missed the point entirely, you’re apparently so pre-occupied with the tedious lives of people who have lived long ago that you are oblivious to the fact that there are real, actual LIVING people in our community who apparently have been brought up in such a dysfunctional environment that they consider vandalism their only recourse.

    Maybe a little less boring people to death with a long-winded rant about the long dead, and a little more involvement in making life better for our society’s underclass might be a more pro-active step towards ensuring this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.

    Then again, apparently your brood hasn’t done it tough for many generations if they can afford to decorate their resting places with ornate marble monuments, how much empathy can you really have with the truly down-trodden?

    I’m not sympathetic at all to your “plight” H Vyner, you are part of the problem, I imagine you have spent your life helping to maintain the financial and social inequity that led to the vandalism in the first place.
    It’s probably the one single character building hardship you’ll ever have to face in your over-privelidged life, what a shame you don’t seem to have learned a bloody thing from it.

  9. raydixon says:

    What makes you think all vandals are “underclasses”, Jack? Is it only symptomatic of people who apparently have been brought up in such a dysfunctional environment? I don’t think so.

    Sorry Jack, but you’re bordering on making excuses for these dickheads. Maybe H Vyner carries on too much about the “long dead”, as you call them, but how do you (or the vandals) know that their targets & victims do not already show a little more involvement in making life better for our society’s underclass?

    You’re not offerring up much of a solution here – unless you think you can fix all of society’s ills by using ‘kid gloves’ on disrespectful, undisciplined and under-policed morons.

  10. The police found the kids who did this Ray, weren’t you paying attention?
    Guess what, they weren’t “old money” from East Albury, no, they were not.

    They were disadvantaged kids- from Lavington I believe.

    Perhaps I haven’t made it abundantly clear that I don’t condone their actions but ffs, surely you can see how “H Vyner” and the other “haves” created the inequality that led to the vandalism in the first place can you not?

    To paraphrase H Vyner;

    “oh poor me, all I want to do is get on with my over-privelidged life and busy myself being better than you and along come these ungrateful peasants and smash dear old great grand-daddy’s headstone.
    How dare they not think me and my family are fabulous, we’ve been better than them for generations and we have the wealth to prove it.
    I think it’s only fair that public money be spent protecting MY private assets, after all, guarding my ancestors is a public service”.

    Sorry I don’t agree.

    The kids that did this committed a crime, if they weren’t charged it’s because they were under the legal age of prosecution.

    Where’s the “kid-gloves” in that?

    What I’m saying is that if you allow an underclass to develop, an entire section of society which has slipped through the cracks, been forgotten and left to rot in slums while people like H Vyner swan through life with everything handed to them on a plate, don’t be surprised when the under-privelidged rise up and bite back occasionally.

    If you allow a few to have much and the many to have nothing, it’s a recipie for revolution.
    That’s not opinion, it’s cold, hard, undeniable fact.
    Demonstrated repeatedly throughout history.

    If you can’t follow that I’m not sure there’s a simpler way I can put it I’m afraid.

  11. raydixon says:

    I think you’re over-stating the ‘class’ differences Jack. Australia is a lot more equal than most societies I don’t think the cause of the vandalism is what you attribute it to.

  12. H Vyner says:

    The name is Helen Vyner the anonymity of HVyner annoys me.
    Your paraphrasing of what I say is a presumption of my life. You don’t know me!!! You don’t know what sort of life I have had. You also do not have any idea what I do to help people in the community. Maybe I can do some presuming of my own by saying that I think you are the one with the over privileged life and you have an over active guilt trip happening. Again you presume that vandalism is only with the Lower class youth. Quite frankly, I think its time you took a step into the real world to see that youth as a whole no matter which class YOU like to put them in, are quite capable of doing damage, we see this time and time again. Trains, Telephone Boxes, Schools, Charity Bins, and Hell even Wheelie Bins, Oh and of course the Graves.
    I don’t presume to know what the answer is for vandalism; I think it just comes down to boys being boys and seeing just what they can get away with, maybe boredom plays a part in it as well.
    The boys were charged, they pleaded guilty. I am pretty sure they did not come from and “underprivileged family” your words not mine, so that shoots your story in the foot.
    I think that one day you should do some history and research on your own family Tree but then again I don’t think they would want such a bigoted person to be a member of their family.
    Before I get accused of rambling on again I better finish.
    Helen

  13. “I don’t presume to know what the answer is for vandalism”

    Here’s a hint….a society that cares enough about it’s most under-privelidged to kep them from falling through the cracks is a lot less likely to suffer from it.

    If these kids are on such a good wicket and you are doing it so tough, why don’t you take out a civil action against them?

    Perhaps because you are over-stating their priveldge and your hardship?

  14. Ray, of course we don’t have poverty and disadvantage in Australia, what was I thinking?

    You just don’t get it Ray, I’m afraid at this point in your life you aren’t likely to either.

  15. raydixon says:

    Jack, I do “get it”, but I simply disagree with your assessment. Don’t get personal please – I have great empathy with what you term the ‘underclasses’ but I think you are definitely overlooking just how much assistance IS given. Far more than in the past.

  16. …and yet still inadequate.
    Ray, you’ll excuse me I’m sure, but I really don’t think you do get it.
    Your approach smacks of the myopic knee-jerk reaction the political right is so famous for.

    In a genuinely equal society, one in which “moral empoverisment” (for want of a better term) is NOT allowed to flourish by creating chasmic discrepancies between rich and poor I doubt very much vandalism of this type would occur at all.

  17. raydixon says:

    In a genuinely equal society …

    Where does that exist?

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