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An 18-year-old’s life sentence. The 'emergence' of hate crime

Two issues came to the fore last Friday when the Supreme Court handed down its judgement on the murder of Chinese national Cao Ya Qing last October.

The 18-year-old defendant Gogosina Lelei Leilua, who fatally stabbed the Chinese man in a botched arm robbery at Vaitele, and is now confined to the Tanumalala Prison to spend the rest of his life.

And the concerns at the emergence of hate crimes in Samoa, as expressed by Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren, when making final comments as part of her ruling in the sentencing of the defendant.

Justice Tafaoimalo, in her ruling last Friday, pointed to the increase in young people getting into crime, and the need for authorities to tackle the issue of youth going astray due to the lack of opportunities including employment.

“We see young men influenced by their peers to adopt irrational and dangerous behaviours which they would not normally adopt individually,” the Judge said.  

“This is another dangerous trend that our country needs to be conscious of. Our many unemployed young men should be in vocational training to avoid idleness, boredom and low financial standing which ultimately in the vast majority of cases leads in only one direction – crime.”

There is a famous English proverb: An idle brain is the devil’s workshop.

The proverb would ring true for a lot of our people today, who due to the lack of educational and or employment opportunities, find themselves marginalised on the outer circle of the society and turn to crime as a means to an end.

Take, for example, Leilua. He is only 18-years-old but will now spend the rest of his life behind bars. His mistake? Agreeing to and participating in a plan that was concocted by two other defendants, one of them his big brother, Mikaele. 

In this day and age in Samoa, you would have thought rationality would immediately kick in, when Mikaele sat down with his younger sibling to discuss the plan. Surely, questions would have crossed his mind, on whether it was a right call to involve Leilua who is only in his late teens and yet to get on the big stage as a man.

But it is all too late for that now, and as Justice Tafaoimalo lamented during the sentencing hearing last Friday, the youngster will now have to live with the fact that he took the life of another man. 

“Gogosina, you are only 18 years old,”  she said. “You will now be sentenced to life imprisonment and you also must live with the knowledge that you caused the death of another human being. The tragedy continues for the family of the deceased as well as your family.”

His life imprisonment is a loss to his family in Vaiusu and Elise, especially his parents, who like any other mother and father in Samoa, would have had dreams and aspirations for their children’s success in life.

But how many more of our sons and daughters do we have to lose to the tentacles of the lack of educational opportunities and unemployment before action is taken to address these societal shortcomings?

Leilua’s actions in taking the life of another man are unacceptable and we condemn it. 

But what are the root causes behind our youth turning to a life of crime when the Government – prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic – talked about a growing economy and the progress we were making as a nation?

Are we falling short of providing enough opportunities – in the educational sector and on the employment front –  for our young people to prepare themselves to take on the world and to excel in life?

Justice Tafaoimalo, when sentencing the defendant last Friday, made reference to an affidavit that was filed in court by 63-year-old Jia Lin Shen and highlighted his fears as a Chinese national of being the target of another attack.

“I read this with a heavy heart. Our country should be careful lest we become a country with hostility towards a group of persons who have race in common.

“This will lead to crime born of that hostility targeted towards a certain group of people and from there, the step towards hate crime is inevitable. 

“Hate crimes are crimes typically involving violence, that are motivated by prejudice on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, or other grounds.

“We pride ourselves as a nation of being tolerant and accepting of different races and nationalities, very much in harmony with our Christian beliefs. We must guard this tolerance fiercely.”

Justice Tafaoimalo is correct. We should fiercely guard the tolerance that we have for others of different nationalities and race, and guided by our Christian faith. To let this slip would take us down the path of destruction.

We say this knowing that the Chinese community have not had it easy in recent years. In June last year a man was jailed for attacking a Chinese volunteer at the seawall, who was later found dead. In February this year three Chinese nationals were assaulted in Salelologa. And over a fortnight ago, a contractor of Japanese origin but is Asian nonetheless, was attacked by youth at the Vaisigano Bridge Project. 

We must continue to condemn these acts of violence targeting the Chinese community and people of other nationalities, and remain steadfast with our Christian faith that such actions are wrong and unacceptable. 

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