Since its inception, America has had its fair share of criminals — and people who fight them.
But before there even was a Supreme Court to combat crime, one group did: we, the people. In 1760, citizens in North Carolina took up arms against corrupt officials, marking the first known instance ofvigilantism in America’s history.
Branded as vigilantes, citizens who skip due process and punish criminals in the name of justice are seen as heroes by their peers, but many times, their actions are deemed unlawful by the government — and could land them in hot water.
But should their actions be illegal? Is it wrong for private individuals to take matters into their own hands and fight for what’s right when it can’t be done through legal means?
Absolutely not. Vigilantes, in a way, are like a bandage. When the legal system’s armor cracks and people like OJ Simpson use loopholes to get away with murder, or when victims get hit with frivolous lawsuits from burglars who injure themselves during break-ins, they step in and try to glue everything back together.
America has a certain law that makes little sense: If someone witnesses a non-violent crime, such as a break-in or a theft, they’re not allowed to physically interfere. Putting their hands on a criminal could result in assault charges, such as the case of the Phoenix Jones, the real-life Seattle superhero, who pepper-sprayed two people he said were fighting.
Crime-fighters like Jones and his rag-tag group of criminal fighters, who patrol streets donning capes and costumes, shouldn’t be arrested for stopping criminals, they should instead be given medals for supplying the public with the swift kind of justice that our government can’t always provide.
People shouldn’t be forced to sit idly by and wait for police to show up. If they feel they can stop a criminal in the process of an illegal act, they should do so without the fear of getting hit with excessive force charges.
In 2010, a man in Washington was brought up on assault charges because he kicked a burglar in the face as police arrived and witnessed the event. Indicting people for forcefully punishing those that wronged them is counterproductive because it shows tolerance towards crime.
Criminals caught in the act shouldn’t enjoy protection just because a citizen busted them instead of a police officer — they should have little to no rights at all.
Don’t want to get beat? Don’t do something stupid. Simple, really.
However, some people argue that vigilantes risk getting the wrong person, violating the “innocent until prove guilty” presumption. For example, Michael Zenquis was wrongly beaten in the summer of 2009 because a group of people thought he was a child rapist.
That being said, it’s important to note that the legal system faces the same kind of downfall.
Alton Logan spent 26 years in a prison after being falsely convicted of a murder he did not commit. If mistakes are grounds for deeming something illegal or immoral, then our justice system fits the bill as well.
As a society, we should embrace self-policing and actively be involved in it, even if it means cracking down harshly on criminals.