The down side of hanging out

Gathering in public places can breed criminal activities. Picture: FILE

Regular hangouts can take the form of shop frontages, bus shelters, ruined buildings, sidewalks, dark corners, public toilets, sports grounds, bean carts, city kiosks and pavements.

Nowadays, these “go to places” where young people like to “hang out” can easily become dens of troublemakers, petty thieves and potential hardcore criminals.

There’s no problem with people cracking a joke outside the bakery or sharing a cigarette at a car wash station.

To me things get out of hand when the hanging out becomes loitering, the loitering becomes habitual, causes a public nuisance and allows crime to breed in plain sight.

Under Fiji’s Minor Offences Act, any person found loitering in or near any premises or public place, leading to the conclusion that it is for an illegal purpose, may be guilty of committing an offence and anyone convicted can be imprisonment up to a term of three months.

Both our public and private spaces are protected under the law.

Private spaces, such as personal property, are protected from trespassers or from unreasonable, illegal searches and seizures, and from unlawful entry and break-ins.

Public spaces too are protected so they are used for their intended purposes and that they remain safe for public enjoyment and use.

It is quite sad to note that some of our public spaces have become spots for pushing drugs, prostitution and even sniffing glue.

Some have become breeding grounds for thugs and criminal elements.

Recently, the media ran stories on concerns over glue sniffing by our young people, in many instances, at well known hangout spots in our towns and cities.

A few weeks ago The Fiji Times took to the streets and alleyways of the capital to find out why more and more people, some as young as eight, are sniffing glue and smoking marijuana.

We found out that for $5 and with no questions asked by shopkeepers, people can easily get their hands on industrial glue from local hardware outlets, shops and mini markets across the capital city.

While on one hand government officials and community leaders continue to hold discussions on ways to curb glue sniffing and drug and substance abuse, the “epidemic” rages on unchecked on the other hand.

The signs of moral decay in society caused by the increasing abuse of drugs such as marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine and glue sniffing, is evident.

Children who should be in school are seen loitering around the central business district and in the suburbs in a zombie-like stupour, and the numbers appear to be increasing at an alarming rate.

Loitering outside storefronts without a legal purpose is a common problem in residential communities, peri-urban centres and town and city limits.

Unchecked, they can develop into formalised criminal groupings causing heightened fears for safety and violence. For this reason, businesses and consumers alike should be encouraged to report illegal loitering and not put up with it.

We need to take action when we see habitual “hanging out” taking place because if it takes us too long to act, then the number of loiterers could increase over time and potentially lead to other criminal activities, including violent attacks.

Sometimes I wonder what authorities are doing about students hanging in the city limits out after school, well after school ends.

We also have young people who hang out in the weekend, around nightclubs and pubs.

Most just need enough fares to take a bus ride to town, hang out aimlessly for a few hours, and catch a ride back home.

What’s happening to our parents, community leaders, guardians and the police? Street aggregation or associations can pose a serious threat to unsuspecting citizens and community peace.

If not addressed now, as their numbers grow and their activities become more bold and dangerous, in the long term, it is highly probable they may increase their role in the already growing hard drug trade or other serious crimes.

People needed to walk freely on the streets without feeling threatened.

To be safe, we as members of the public should pay attention to where these well-known hot spots in town, especially at night, and stay away from them if we can.

Sometimes getting in trouble is just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

While law enforcement plays a critical role in addressing problems like loitering, public nuisance, petty street crimes, and the formation of gangs and violent behaviour, it is important to note that law enforcers cannot address the issue alone.

Collaboration between relevant authorities, citizens, and community organisations is critical to put in place effective strategies that can curtail both the threat of violent youth behaviour and criminal activities, and the conditions that allow them to fester.

Until we next meet on this same page same time next week, stay blessed, stay heathy and stay safe!

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