You don’t want vigilante justice

While I was on vacation this week I happened to see this video of a store owner tackling a man that punched an elderly person in the face and stole his wallet. The story has a happy ending, with the loser getting thrown to the ground in what looks like a WWF wrestling move and eventually being arrested. Thankfully, the city is pursuing charges against the criminal and not the store owner.

But what happens when that is no longer the case? What happens when crimes go unpunished? What happens when people are allowed to ransack a 7-11 with impunity?

First, you’ll have stores respond with increased security, limited hours and eventually leaving. That’s what’s happened in San Francisco, where CVS and Walgreens began closing store after store when the city essentially allowed criminals to run free so long as they stole under $1,000 in merchandise. It’s not just California though…places as far away as Philadelphia have similar issues.

The second response, should crime continue unpunished, is far worse. When people feel that the police won’t or can’t protect them, they will turn to vigilante justice. It’s exactly how the Mafia started in Sicily, where the lack of police to settle disputes resulted in towns paying for groups of men to enforce justice. For a time, it worked: the Mafia kept crime low and people tolerated its existence. But it wasn’t a great system, as it incentivized the Mafia to engage in significant political tampering, as well as brutal enforcement tactics, to maintain its grip on power.

Mafia-like activity in America would be similar to Italy. Having local disputes solved by the equivalent of a local warlord might become a better option then waiting weeks for a court date with a corrupt judge. Neighbors will settle more disputes informally than formally. Most worrisome, we’d also see an increase in unsolved murders. If your store is robbed, you know who did it and you don’t expect the police to punish the criminal, then at some point you might take it into your own hands. Neighbors will know its happening, but since they are likely affected as well, they may shrug their shoulders and stay quiet. Why snitch on a neighbor that killed a local criminal? You’re better off without that criminal, and you certainly don’t want to be on your neighbor’s hit list!

We don’t want an America like this. Vigilante justice is not a good option. Let’s hope we can bring better law enforcement back.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

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