Vigilante justice is something that will continue to happen no matter how legal or illegal it is so long as members of the public perceive their law and order system to be ineffective. In short, if society’s police are seen to be arresting the right criminals and the courts sentence them appropriately then the people will rarely rise up to find their own brand of justice.
As a kid, my favourite comic book character was Marvel Comic’s The Punisher. The idea of a man wronged by criminals and murders to such a point that taking on their tactics and becoming just as heinous as them in seeking his revenge upon them and their kind was a paradoxical and hypocritical story that I have always thought spoke a great deal of truth about human nature.
Vigilantes have for years attempted to “protect” their fellow citizens and – unlike vigilante comic book heroes such as The Punisher or Batman, they frequently do little other than mistakenly provoked the situation. On other occasions the name “vigilante” is wrongly used as the people carrying out the acts are nothing more than criminals themselves, intent on punishing groups they see as being responsible for society’s ills.
Almost anybody could become a vigilante. If somebody was to hurt or kill my family and the police or court system proved ineffective in finding and punishing those responsible, you’d better believe that I’d hunt them down and dispatch my own justice.
But that is a perfectly rational and human response. Very singular but logical all the same If you hurt me, I’ll hurt you back. It is therefore moderately viable as an option for dealing with such extreme situations.
However, the concept of a man who for example’s sake murders in cold blood, the person who escaped the legal ramifications of killing his wife is merely that of revenge.
A vigilante group, the kind who would perform a lynching, are nearly always organised and structured in much the same way as the criminal gangs they often consider their enemy. In fact, many vigilante groups are nothing more than criminal gangs hiding behind a good-guy badge and the pretence of community protection.
I have little faith in the police, the courts and the whole justice system of my country but I have yet to be a victim of a crime so serious I would consider vigilantism as a viable option. If such a situation arose, maybe I would feel different but at the present moment I consider vigilante groups (especially those who would perform a lynching) to be idiotic thugs hiding behind a mask of societal concern.
To illustrate that point, in the UK we had a media commotion over the naming and shaming of paedophiles a year or so ago. When the addresses of people on the sex offender’s register began to become leaked to the public, many people decided to take the law into their own hands and attack these people (sometimes only attacking their property but on some occasions physically assaulting the individuals).
One of the people had the windows of their house put through and then they were physically beaten by an angry mob accusing them of being a paedophile; the person was in fact a paediatrician.
I know how much of a corny joke this sounds but I promise I am not joking; I did not make it up. This happened.