It was about a year ago I found myself backed up against a building staring down the barrel of a forty-five. The barrel glistened in the moonlight and I found myself wondering what I was doing in the ghettos of the Buenos Aires at this late of an hour. The two thugs rummaged through my pockets and stripped me of all my money, electronics, and even made me hand over my jacket. After the robbery I called the police and was told that nothing could be done. In my frustration I talked to a few of the locals and recounted the story to them.
The next day we were passing by a park when group of hazardous looking youth approached us. After the events of the previous day, I started sweating up a ...view middle of the document...
Before my experience in Argentina I had only seen things like that in the movies. My experience with vigilantes was limited to Batman, Spiderman, and The Transformers. In the movies vigilantes are always heroes. They do good, help the helpless, and correct the problems that conventional law enforcement fails to solve; but these super heroes of the cinema aren’t exactly real life. This brings us to the question. Is vigilante action ever justifiable?
What is a vigilante? According to the Merriam Webster dictionary a vigilante is, “a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate); [or] broadly: a self-appointed doer of justice.” In other words a vigilante is usually a person that decides to take the law into their own hands. This definition really is not adequate to describe all vigilantes. It leaves many questions unanswered. For example, whose laws are vigilantes enforcing? What type of justice do they seek? How do they enforce said laws? What separates vigilantes from other organizations such as the Klu-Klux-Klan and Al-Qaida? It becomes a very messy situation when you start to consider how broad of a topic vigilantism really is.
To narrow the topic we can clear up some of these questions. In order to be a true vigilante, vigilantes need to be enforcing the laws of the land, and the only way to enforce these laws is by violence. William E. Burrows a professor at New York University and expert on national security had this to say about vigilantism.
Violence was and continues to be the ultimate recourse that has given vigilantes their social bite and made them a force to be reckoned with. Without violence in some form, actual or potential, vigilante action would mean next to nothing, because it would be incapable of intimidation and, therefore, of “regulation.” Those who have been threatened by vigilance, who have wandered under its shadow, have always taken it seriously, because they have understood, sometimes through the firsthand example that it amounted to certain deadly punishment. (Burrows 8)
I think it is very clear. The only way vigilantes can be effective is through violence or at least the threat of violence.
Many people would like to claim that this is not justifiable. Laws and governments are created to protect us from the unwanted violence of others. Social contract theorists argue that because we are part of a society we must follow its rules. We must look to the established system to provide retribution and punishment. Society itself must right individual wrongs and protect its citizens. Any time a person supersedes their respective role and fulfills a function that is not their own they violate this contract. More bluntly if Bill steals my car, I cannot go beat Bill and take my car back, I must go to the police and follow the legal course of action. Vigilantes skip going to the police and decide to enforce the law by...