Jakarta gangs in spotlight
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The heavy security at the trial of gang leader and murder suspect John Kei at the Central Jakarta District Court on Tuesday showed how thuggery had become somewhat of a spectacle in the capital.
The Jakarta Police deployed 650 officers to safeguard the trial proceedings, which were attended by supporters of John Kei — who was accused of helping orchestrate the murder of businessman Tan Harry Tantono — and members of a gang led by his rival, Hercules Rozario Marshal.
Hercules’ and John’s gangs were involved in a violent brawl in Cengkareng, West Jakarta, last week, allegedly over a disputed plot of land. One of Hercules’ men was shot dead by police officers during a raid following the altercation.
It was the second major violent gang incident after a battle between Maluku gangs in February, when around 50 assailants brandishing swords and machetes attacked a number of mourners, leading to two fatalities, at the Gatot Soebroto Army Hospital’s funeral home.
Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Rikwanto told reporters on Tuesday that heavy security was necessary for preventing another altercation between the two notorious gangs following the brawl in Cengkareng, in which 99 people, all of which were members of John’s gang, were named suspects.
“Everybody knows that this case is related to thuggery and that there is a rival gang attending the trial, so we need extra security measures.”
Though the city has enjoyed robust economic growth in the past few years, the dearth of job opportunities in Jakarta is to blame for the rising number of thugs in a city of 10 million.
The police recorded at least 210 cases involving Jakarta’s thugs from January to August this year. They have been charged with murder, extortion and trespassing, among others, Rikwanto said.
“The cases range from petty crimes committed by thugs, usually in markets or bus stations, to major crimes committed by big gangs,” Rikwanto said.
The police also noted that of all the cases, 31 of them had involved disputes over land ownership. The police planned to map land disputes in the capital and were considering increasing patrols in those areas.
Rikwanto said that the police could not just arrest gang members paid to guard disputed lands. “We cannot punish thugs if they do not violate any laws. Anticipating more brawls is the best we can do,” he said.
The police called on land owners to seek formal security services instead of resorting to using the
services of thugs.
A police investigation found that the brawl in Cengkareng occurred after a company hired John’s gang to guard 1.4 hectares of the land, while another company hired a group of Hercules’ men to protect the remaining 0.7 hectares. John’s men reportedly laid claim to the smaller plot of land, inciting conflict with Hercules’ men.
A sociologist from the University of Indonesia, Thamrin Amal Tamagola, agreed that the lack of job
opportunities and positive activities in the capital had driven young men to join gangs.
“Repressive actions will not solve the problem; what is needed is to keep these youngsters busy,” Thamrin said, adding that such a strategy could begin by empowering the unemployed in their neighborhoods.
Thamrin identified big groups such John Kei’s as organized thugs, which could never be eradicated as long as the illegal businesses they protected still operated.
“Police will never win battling these groups, as they have strong networks and financial backup. In the end, providing jobs is the solution to preventing groups from recruiting jobless youngsters, which only leads to the expansion of these groups,” he said. (aml)