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Dangers of Vigilantism

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 19 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
 
Vigilant Vigilante Vigilante Group

The potential dangers of vigilantism are often the result of perceived perceptions of what ‘vigilantism’ actually means. There is a marked difference between being ‘vigilant’ and becoming a member of a ‘vigilante group’. Unfortunately, while most of us would be able to clearly define the former, it’s highly likely that you’d get a vast range of different definitions to the latter, and that’s often where the danger lies.

Being Vigilant

The majority of us would define being vigilant as being watchful and attentive to certain things that might be going around us. When it comes to groups like Neigbourhood Watch Schemes, for example, the local community police officer, who would be helping us to run the scheme successfully, would always encourage us all to be vigilant. That means, paying more attention than perhaps we might otherwise have done to what is going on within our immediate neighbourhood.

It’s by being vigilant that we’re able to look at things from a slightly different angle. Where we might once have ‘turned a blind eye’ to, or even failed to notice certain kinds of unusual activity going on around us before, being more vigilant means we’re far more likely to notice and note any suspicious activities that might be going on within our neighbourhood, and to share that information with both our neighbours and the police.

Simply put, a Neighbourhood Watch Scheme is like being part of a ‘vigilant’ group, which is very different from how people might consider a ‘vigilante’ group to be.

Vigilante Groups

Here’s where the waters become muddied. Because of stories we’ve previously read about in the press or seen on TV, the definition of a vigilante group can be perceived very differently from one person to the next. For example, if you asked 100 people to define a vigilante group, it’s most likely that the majority of responses would include the phrase, “it’s where people gather together in numbers to address issues which, to them, have not been dealt with sufficiently by the proper authorities, so they take the law into their own hands and sort out the problem themselves to gain justice”.

They might not use those exact words but many people would include those kinds of sentiments in their response. If you also asked them if they thought the word ‘vigilante’ instilled a sense of ‘fear’, most would respond ‘Yes’. Therein lies the problem.

Dangers of Vigilantism

If a local community feels that a certain issue hasn’t been dealt with appropriately by the police, or that laws are openly being flouted by a certain individual or group of people, then, by becoming part of a vigilante group, they might decide to tackle the matter themselves. As part of a group anyway, they’ll be more likely to perceive themselves as being safer and more able to act upon any grievance they might share. An example is the best way of demonstrating this and will also highlight the dangers.

Example of Vigilante Activity

Your community suffers from problems with Youths Gathering Around the shops at night, drinking alcohol and generally being abusive to passers by. The police have taken steps to eradicate this within the boundaries of the law, but the problem still persists. You decide, as a group, to go out and speak to these youths. The problem is that it’s likely to result in some kind of confrontation as opposed to trying to establish a good dialogue, no matter what your intentions might be when you set out.

The youths mock you and may become both verbally and, in some cases, physically aggressive. The likelihood is that you will escalate the problem by rising to the bait or, worse still, you’ll become either the victim or the perpetrator of an physical assault. Therefore, not only have you not resolved the issue, you’re now part of a criminal investigation, whether it’s as the perpetrator or the victim of crime.

Furthermore, even if no actual physical violence or crime takes place, the youths may then have identified you visually as a person who opposes the way they conduct their lives. That can then result in you becoming a ‘soft target’. Yes, the youths may be sensible enough to not confront a group of adults, but they may wait to gain their ‘revenge’.

This might come in the form of a physical assault upon you when you’re out and about on your own, or they may decide to turn vigilante themselves. They could find out where you live and cause problems with vandalism to property such as your car, and they might even target completely innocent members of your family who have nothing to do with the matter.

So while it’s perfectly acceptable to form a group who perhaps take turns to walk around the neighbourhood at night checking that everything’s in order, you need to be careful about how you go about doing that. You also need to keep any confrontations and sense of justice far from your thoughts and leave that to the police to deal with, otherwise you could be putting yourself and your family in serious danger.

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You’re right in that vigilantism is generally seen as taking the law into your own hands. However, there’s a big difference between a neighbourhood patrol to stop something specific, such as drug dealing, and confronting youths who are gathered but doing no wrong. The former, if there’s no direct confrontation, can improve the community, especially where the police have taken no action. The latter is simply harassment.
will - 3-Oct-12 @ 1:05 PM
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