Armed Posse Patrols Timber Land in Sheriff's Place

Story from Oregon here, about citizens stepping up to do local police work. One part I do not get -
Policing expert Dennis Kenney, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, says neighborhood watch efforts can be positive but turn into problems when volunteers "decide that instead of supplementing law enforcement, they are going to replace law enforcement. Then you cross potentially into vigilantism."... Nichols says what his group is doing is "not vigilantism at all."
Okay, I get why an academic might say it, and why the word carries emotional freight that would make someone want to deny it. But I never heard before that was the distinction. Vigilantes at their best, if I remember, could and did work with official law enforcement (when there was any), and hand their prisoners over to the courts for trial (when, again, there were any). The crowd in The Ox-Bow Incident turns evil, not when they decide to apprehend suspects in a murder, but when they follow a leader who decides that they're going to do their hanging on the spot - "because they don't think the courts are fast enough."


Texan99 said...

Looks to me like people "replace" law enforcement when they completely give up on it. That's disquieting if they include fair trials in the definition of law enforcement. Lynching don't bother me because they lack the sanction of the state; they bother me because it's too easy to hang the wrong guy in the heat of the moment, especially if he's a convenient scapegoat. We have ponderous justice systems just so we can let passions cool down and make sure the accused gets a careful sifting of evidence.

But if the justice system wants to see more vigilanteism, all it has to do is shuffle around ineffectually and lose the public's confidence. People who have willingly delegated the protection of safety, law, and order will yank it right back.

Grim said...

The other problem with lynchings (at least as practiced in the South) is that they are often accompanied by beatings, burnings-alive, and other sort of exemplary violence.

Which, you know, if you're talking about the guy who raped your daughter and then beat her to death... well, "an eye for an eye" has a certain ring to it. Still, in general we prefer a more dispassionate revenge. It somehow seems more honest to us. So there's that.

On the other hand, my favorite example of vigilantes creating a positive effect is the war around Tombstone, AZ, in the early 1880s. This includes the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral.

The key to understanding the war was that it was 'law enforcement' on all sides: the one side was made up of local and Federal agents, who also worked for the Wells Fargo corporation and were aligned with the Republican party. The other side were all deputized by the county sheriff after the OK Corral shooting, and were Democrats.

You can see why the people of Tombstone finally just went to both sides and asserted that if there were any more gunfights downtown, they were going to hang both factions from the lampposts.

The war went on until the Democratic side was entirely wiped out or fled from the region, but it went on in the wilderness where no innocents got hurt by it. That was a positive good.

Bob said...

Here in Orygun, any resident may use all "appropriate" force to deliver a criminal to justice.

The problem here is most governmant agencies are using helf their revenue to pay retirement benefits for previous employees. That makes it kind'a hard to hire new ones.

DL Sly said...

"Here in Orygun..."

Ah, I love when a man speaks *proper* English.

RonF said...

A vigilante is someone who takes it upon themselves to enforce the law without official sanction to do so.

It is my understanding - and please correct me if I'm wrong - that any citizen has the right to secure a law breaker until such time as a law enforcement offical can take custody of that person. Is that vigilantism? I thought it was only vigilantism when a citizen who was not a law enforcement official not only secured a law breaker but in addition made a determination that the law had been broken and punished the law breaker.

Joseph W. said...

RonF - Well, the Anti Horse-Thief Association -- which is what I had in mind by "vigilantism at its best" -- did not, I believe, dole out punishments; it supplemented "official" law enforcement by capturing wrongdoers, but then handed them over to the courts. See this. Notice that they operated in the open, too.

I first read about them in The Samurai, the Mountie, and the Cowboy, an age and and age ago - they were highly, and nationally, respected in a way lynch mobs weren't (I mean, political figures would boast openly about their membership and activities in the organization). I suspect that Grim could tell us a lot more about them if he was of a mind to.

You'll notice the two links I provide differ on whether the AHTA were really "vigilantes" - but I'm used to the word including both extremes.

Grim said...

Well, the main thing about the AHTA that gave them moral authority was the centrality of the horse to life out West. This can be hard for a modern American to appreciate, let alone someone from Europe.

We think of horses as being roughly analogous to cars, and thus a stolen horse is kind of an inconvenience (readily remedied by, say, insurance agencies). At best, stealing a horse meant stealing a substantial part of someone's wealth, without any insurance agency to replace it. But that's still not nearly the right picture.

If you slipped up to someone's farm and stole his horses, you might well be sentencing him and his family to death. It might be many miles to the nearest town, and many months of winter might make it potentially deadly to try to make that trip even on horseback -- should a blizzard blow up, for example. If there was a fire that destroyed some of your stores, or if you needed medicine, a lack of horses could be fatal. Likewise, in the desert West, losing your horse could be the difference between making it to the next water, and not making it.

So a horse thief is a different kind of character, conceptually, from a car thief. Anyone who worked to put a stop to that menace was going to enjoy significant public support, because it was the kind of behavior that was a crime more than severe enough to deserve the death penalty.

douglas said...

"well, "an eye for an eye" has a certain ring to it."

Indeed, and it's not necessarily bad advice. Often the predilection of one who has been victimized is to have retribution in greater measure to 'teach a lesson' to the perpetrator. 'Eye for an eye' is really acting as a limiter to violence.

I can't find the exact passage, but there is a passage in the bible admonishing fathers to not exercise their right to punish their sons with death until getting a court to hear the grievance first. At first blush, this sounds odd, but again, in an era where a court may be days away, it allows a cooling off period, preventing a rash reaction driven by rage or other emotions.