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Would you kill a snatch thief?

Recently, I almost caught a snatch thief. I was walking along Jalan Telawi Lima, Bangsar Baru in Kuala Lumpur where Maybank, MacDonald’s and the Rocky Restaurant are situated, at 3pm on a bright Saturday afternoon. Whilst walking I was reading a SMS on my handphone. Suddenly, the handphone was taken off my hand by a guy on a motorbike and he proceeded to ride off with the phone in his mouth.

Unfortunately for him, he was on the road shoulder and the obstacles there did not allow him to speed up. I ran alongside him and pushed him off-balance. His bike ramped over water-meters and he crashed into a clinic's shop front.

I retrieved my handphone which fell off in the crash. I looked at the guy, thinking that he’s now an accident victim and may need help. He got up, glared at me and retorted " Apa u mau ?" I gestured with my hands thinking 'What's happening man'.

After all, he looks like any other guy on a bike, just like the ones I would hire to work as office staff, or the ones I played football with, years ago.

Suddenly he revved off on his bike. I realised again he was a thief and ought to be treated as one. I managed to kick him below his ribs, but I doubt he was hurt. I chased but he went through two rows of tables along the five foot way, up a six-inch step, and down another two steps on his noisy ‘scrambler’ motorbike, speeding past the trendy restaurants.

By now there was quite an audience starring in disbelief that a snatch theft case was going on right in the middle of a busy street in classy Bangsar. The crowd was the usual middle to upper class English-speaking people of Bangsar. My wife witnessed the whole incident as she waited for me in our car waiting to pick me up after an errand.

For your information, in my family of five adults living in Bangsar, we have now been victims of five snatch thefts and car break-ins in the last two years. We all wonder why the rich residents of Bangsar cannot get together to protect ourselves.

The saying that we have a First World infrastructure with Third World mentality rings true again. Here was an area with Starbucks, MacDonald’s, Western pubs, and foreign-trained professionals and so on. But here is also where the Mat Rempit come to pick on easy victims, like my wife (twice) and my 80-year-old mother and friend.

What is the difference between Bangsar and South Africa now? The crime rate looks like it is just as bad. The difference is that in South Africa, apartheid is back, in the form of gated communities, gated shopping areas, gated office and commercial areas.

Private guards are everywhere in South Africa expecting trouble and armed to protect themselves and their employers. In Bangsar, we still think we are in a nice, safe area and that the police are nearby. Our five resident associations still can't get private security in place.

But coming back to the snatch thief. In hindsight, for about three seconds, I could have caught him and beaten him up. It was just like starring at a cornered rat in the house, just before you kill it with a stick and watch it die, twitching away before going still.

People I spoke to said they would have killed him, and asked why I didn’t kill him. Certainly, incidences like this have happened before and the unlucky thief was actually beaten up and killed in a public show of anger and revenge for past incidents.

When I remember that my wife was traumatised by snatch theft incidences twice in six months and both times in Bangsar, and my 80-year-old mother who was sent to hospital and is right now still suffering from a bad back due to a snatch theft in Bangsar, yes, I think I could have killed him.

Many said to me the police would not do anything even though we have his bike number plate (which fell off) so we better just kill him on the spot.

Then again, this is the year where political awareness is almost at an all time high. I tend to think that this Mat Rempit may be one of those who suffered years of mismanagement and mismatched expectations.

In the last many years, I have worked and played alongside with my fellow Malaysians. This year at work, I saw with my own eyes my Malay colleagues openly supporting DAP candidates while my Chinese and Christian colleagues openly voted for Malay and Muslim candidates. Malaysian citizens have not felt so united for a long time.

This snatch thief is another fellow Malaysian citizen somehow misguided and lost in the world. We make excuses and say they are probably addicts, foreigners, etc. Let's face it, they are our own Mat Rempit, out there in the hundreds, crowding out the prisons, snatching as they like, not just in Snatch-Theft-Center-Bangsar, but also in Kepong, Seremban, Johor Baru, Klang, Kajang, anywhere.

Are there a few hardcore snatch thieves? Or are there populations of Mat Rempit going around just snatching when they feel like it? With so many incidents, it is obvious that there are hordes of them. With an impending recession and the political situation in disarray, expect more snatch thefts. My 83-year-old father has not been ‘snatched from’ yet. No bets on whether he'll be a victim within the next one year in Bangsar.

So think about it. If you are ready to kill a snatch thief, please be ready to kill the rest of the hundreds of Mat Rempit. I still think I can't kill a thief, much as I think of him as a rat of a person.