It’s a familiar story by now, no matter where on this planet you live. Society’s most vulnerable citizens being preyed upon by its most depraved citizens right under the noses of the police sworn to “protect and serve.” In my hometown of Vancouver, it was indigenous women sex workers raped and murdered by Robert Pickton, with estimates anywhere from 6 to 49 victims. In Cleveland, it was crack addicted black women murdered by the Cleveland Strangler, Anthony Sowell, convicted for 11 murders. In the Seattle area, it was 71 or more women sex workers raped and murdered by the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway. In India, Surinder Koli raped and murdered up to 19 children in Nithari. In each case, the police ignored and overlooked the disappearances of people considered to be unimportant by society’s standards. Maybe we in the West look at 19 children disappearing with horror, but just like addicts and street-level sex workers in our cities, those children belonged to an underclass that the police had no time or inclination to help. The “protect and serve” motto is a global one for police forces, it’s just misunderstood by most of the population – the police protect and serve the wealthiest among us, not the most vulnerable or most in need of their protection.
Surinder Koli took full advantage of the fact that these children were unimportant in the eyes of authorities in Nithari. While their parents searched high and low, and begged the police for help and investigation in their their daughters and sons disappearances, they were ignored time and again. Police accused the parents of lying about their children’s ages, claiming that the children were in fact adults who had simply moved out after fighting with their parents. They were repeatedly dismissed by police until the residents of Koli’s neighborhood discovered the remains of two children in the water tank behind his residence. At this point, the police decided that the repeated claims of suspicion of Koli were worth investigating, and what they found was appalling. Skulls and bones were found in and around his home. Decomposing body parts were dug up from the surrounding area and sewers. He and his boss, businessman Moninder Singh Pandher, were brought in for questioning, and Koli confessed to raping, murdering and, in some cases, eating 17 children under the age of 10 and one woman, although he is suspected of killing up to 31 children. Residents were so angry with police that there were riots and clashes between the two groups, with residents stoning police who were guarding the house.
After Koli confessed, he was charged with 6 murders over the course of the next 5 years. There are still more than a dozen pending murder charges. He was sentenced to death, but his execution order that was to be carried out in 2014 was stayed, and then commuted to life imprisonment in 2015. Two police superintendents were suspended and six police officers dismissed because of “dereliction of duty.” It’s cold comfort to the parents of the children that were brutally abused, murdered and eaten, but this is more than could be said of the police in Cleveland, SeaTac or Vancouver. We North Americans have a habit of forgiving our police their blatant transgressions. There is no clearer indication of a society’s ills than the worst among us. Serial killers aren’t just isolated creatures who are less than human, they actually highlight our own worst tendencies and most debased treatment of each other. We should learn from their victims – not how to better catch the killers themselves, but how to make a society with fewer vulnerable citizens, fewer victims, fewer shadows to hide in.