Beware what you share on WhatsApp
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Beware what you share on WhatsApp

WhatsApp groups have made it very easy to pass on a message to a number of people at the same time, but Terence Pillay says that some people on community groups use it as nothing more than a vehicle for racism. 

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These days most communities have a neighbourhood WhatsApp group to communicate the goings on in the areas in which they live. I have been investigating a number of emails and screengrabs that have been sent to me from people in some of these groups that say the racism that seems to be tolerated on these groups is unacceptable.

Firstly, we need to establish that there is definitely a difference between neighbourhood watches and neighbourhood groups. For one, neighbourhood groups can be used as forces for good in that they can bring social cohesion by allowing neighbours to get to know each other. But obviously, most of the time they’re formed to deal with security issues – that’s usually their reason for being.

So for example, a friend of mine started out with a neighbourhood group, which was meant to be about security and he says the most important thing about forming this group was that there were rules in place - the biggest one of all was that you don’t talk on the group unless it concerned a security issue. But the reality is that people love to talk; they wanted to natter about everything other than security so he created a separate group, which was simply a natter or social group. So people chat on this group all the time and nobody natters on the security group unless there’s a security issue or concern.

The problem for me is the number of bored women on these groups that cry wolf for every simple thing – often without even investigating or getting more information before they spread it. The thing is, you need to get to know the people that frequent your area and in so doing, you know if they’re suspicious or not. Let’s take your neighbour’s gardener for example who’s on his way to work in the morning – if you actually took the time and effort to get to know who your neighbour’s gardener is, then you won’t be spewing drivel like “random suspicious BM (which stands for Black Male) walking down the street”. You’ll actually say something like, “I saw Siybonga walking down the road. He looked tired so I gave him a glass of juice.”

These are some people that create such mayhem on these groups that someone gets hysterical and calls the police believing their lives are in imminent danger from a man who is simply walking to work, using the public road, which by the way, he has every right to use.  This then creates a strain on police resources because they react when someone is painting a picture of danger even when there is none. 

Why aren’t these people calling their security companies who will arrive to find that it is simply a worker on his way to or from work? There are some communities that have dedicated private security patrol vehicles that they can contact to investigate something or someone suspicious but they don’t use this tool.

The thing about these groups is that there have to be very strict rules. People should be warned against crying wolf every time they see someone walking on the street. They should also not tolerate any kind of racism, sexism, politics or religious bashing and if people don’t adhere to the rules, they should be warned against it and if they persist, they should be kicked off the group – it’s as simple as that. That’s not acceptable.

There was this incident that someone wrote to me about recently which involved a father who was waiting in his parked car outside a prominent Durban school. He was simply waiting to fetch his child who was participating in some or other extramural activity. Two housewives, also there to fetch their children decided that this man was suspicious and a message on their security group about a suspicious looking BM parked outside the school. Someone then called the police, who arrived to find he was simply a father waiting for this child. How embarrassing for him to have to be confronted by the police because two idiot mothers didn’t bother to get more information before calling the police.

This man has every right to be there to pick up his child. Why did no one think that this mother was actually some kind of sex offender prowling outside the school? 

People are stereotyped and this nonsense needs to stop. They may be trying to be vigilant and keep neighbourhoods safe, but there’s a way of doing it that doesn’t involve you being a complete and utter racist.

People need to be educated on what is suspicious as opposed to just being reactionary and histrionic about every single person that walks on the road or parks in a car. I definitely believe people should be vigilant especially with what we have to deal with in terms of crime stats in this country, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of stereotyping an entire racial group.

A few years ago, I did a story on the crime in Chatsworth and how a church group had decided to form a people’s army to tackle the issue. They went around giving people whistles, which they would blow and alert the community that something was amiss. What do you think happened? These housewives blew the whistle every time someone simply walked past their house on their way home or to work. During an interview with one of these women, she stopped and pointed out a man climbing a ladder against a fence and said: “This is the kind of criminal acts we use our whistles to warn others about.” I did use the moment to educate her to the fact that it was simply a gardener trimming the hedges, and she felt completely foolish.

I read a message on a community watch group recently that sought to educate the community on what is suspicious. They say it is difficult to answer but mostly it has to do with a gut feel; does it look normal. So you look at a vehicle and ask yourself some questions, like what type of vehicle is it? 

Do the analytics tell us that these vehicles are mostly used in the committing of crimes? What does crime intelligence tell us about this type of vehicle? Is it damaged, for example, they often have a broken headlight or something like that? Can you see the occupants or does the car have tinted windows? Are they slowly cruising the street or are they parked in an odd spot? How do they react to your presence?

If you feel that something is out of place and your community watch has a control room, then contact them to intervene, oe call your local security company.

Other things to look out for include: is a car reversed into a driveway, or idling outside an open gate. This could indicate that there might be a crime in progress because that’s typical behaviour of a home invasion.

I was also alerted to a community group who sit around in their cars with paintball guns watching if their neighbourhood is being compromised. They are in a bit of hot water though because they fired paint at someone they thought was suspicious and who turned out to be someone on his way home from work. The man was injured and is now suing them for assault. I do hope that these gung-ho idiots who have taken the law into their own hands get a suitable punishment for this. Do you know how sore being hit with a paintball gun can be?

At the end of the day, we all need to be vigilant so that we don’t become a victim of crime, but we also need to think before we post drivel on these WhatsApp groups.

You can email Terence Pillay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and engage with him there. 

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