The notion of roving gangs of young thugs is alarming. In the UAE, where most people assume violent crime is relatively rare, such reports raise troubling questions about society as a whole.
One of the most recent incidents, reported in The National yesterday, involved as many as 13 presumed gang members beating a shopowner and three others with sticks. Witnesses accused police of watching the incident without taking any action, while officials dismissed the event as minor and rejected the claim of police passivity as baseless.
There needs to be a further investigation into the attack, and the police response. Regardless, the violence fits into what appears to be a trend of violent assaults by gangs of young men. Another news report this week told of four men who used swords and an iron bar against a 15-year-old. That attack, last April, was so serious that the four were convicted of attempted murder - but their sentences, two of one year and two of six months, will strike many as surprisingly light.
Youth-gang cases are no rarity. In May, The National reported the concern of residents of the Dubai neighbourhoods Satwa and Al Quoz who said they felt intimidated by roving youth gangs. Eight young males are now before the courts, charged with raping a boy. Attacks involving young men using bladed weapons are now frequently reported.
This type of youth crime is distinct from violence by determined groups of criminals; when bands of young men rove aimlessly with weapons, trouble is just a minor irritation away.
As is often and correctly noted, preventing youth-gang violence is a social issue and a parenting matter, as well as a law-enforcement problem. But this is no longer about prevention alone: the apparent increase in gang attacks suggests that police and the courts should enforce a firm, impartial, consistent zero-tolerance policy, and publicise it thoroughly.
When cases get to court, sentencing should serve two purposes: punishment and deterrence. Will six short months for attempted murder send enough of a signal to anyone on the cusp of a comparable act?
At the policing level, prompt and even-handed enforcement of the law is just one part of the task. In every neighbourhood where gangs are worrying the residents, police need to use their whole toolbox: prompt and skilled investigation, reliable intelligence work, attention to community relations and increased street presence.
Parents, police, courts: it takes a team to stop a gang.