That’s my problem with vigilantism – in the hot homicidal passion of the moment, having the weapon is all the justification I need to pass judgment on whatever creep I’m dealing with.
So I thought about it for a while and penned a response, which I thought might be interesting grist for the mill.
My question to any and all who might be reading this, what do you think? Is there any merit to my remarks, or am I just a psycho? Should I not be let out on a day pass? Let me know in the comments.
You raise an excellent point. What gives any of us executorial authority over someone else? What gives individuals the authority to attack or kill another person?
The scenario you're talking about is at best self defense and at worst road rage. I think the idea of vigilantism gets conflated with these from time to time, but I don't think it quite fits either.
The police cannot protect the individual. They can only protect the community. There aren't enough police to patrol all areas, or to respond to all crimes.
Back in the 70's there was a sea change in the way police went about doing things. New York started and Los Angeles is only recently shifting to follow suit. Essentially, police work was defined by their ability to respond to calls, reacting to crimes in progress. The shift came when New York started increasing police presence in heavy crime neighborhoods, acting as a preventive. Increased foot patrols, stronger community presence.
Look at MacArthur Park 5 years ago and compare it to today. The place was essentially cordoned off into 4 areas as gang territory and an open air drug market. The LAPD experimented by increasing patrols and stopping people over minor infractions. Or just going up to random people and asking what they were doing. Are there still problems? Absolutely, but the place has changed dramatically from a no man's land into a place where families have picnics on weekends.
On the one hand this approach has helped because it's preventive, on the other it's hindered because it's shifted the face of crime such that it moves into areas that it takes time for law enforcement to respond to. Compton last year is an excellent example. The place had a ridiculously high homicide rate, largely because the LA Sheriff couldn’t get enough personnel in the area.
Preventives take planning, and more resources to move into an area. Reactives move more quickly, but only help in the short term.
There are still huge problems. Rampart, Devin Brown, the basic perception that the police are the enemy, a perception that the LAPD has been slow to do anything about.
So policing in general is improving, though Los Angeles has been slow to change. Like him or hate him, Bratton has largely been responsible for any positive changes in the LAPD.
Either way, in the scenario you described, the police couldn't have protected you. They weren't there.
If you were attacked and defended yourself, obviously that's self defense. If you attacked before being attacked that's assault. But if you attack after the fact and you or your daughter is wounded, what does that gain you? The moral high ground and a sucking chest wound.
I see vigilantism as a citizen run crime preventive. A neighborhood watch is a form of vigilantism. The police can't watch every neighborhood, so the neighbors damn well better watch out for themselves. But in a city as spread out as Los Angeles and a 911 system so overworked that it can take twenty minutes to get through for an emergency call and another 10 to 15 to get a car out, they're going to have to do more than just watch.
But getting groups of people, especially in a society that has led the last 50 years with an expectation of safety, to do more than watch and report is damn near impossible. People want to talk, not take action. So beyond a neighborhood watch, you're not going to get much.
But then there are the Guardian Angels. They haven't gotten much press lately, but they're still very much around. That's a form of vigilantism, too. Much more direct vigilantism, in fact. Citizen run crime prevention. Communities taking back the streets without the need for police and city resources. Getting off their asses and doing something about it.
They've gotten some bad press in the past, especially in New York, and they've been accused of some extreme measures, but no one else is doing it.
But I don't think that really addresses your point.
Back in the late 90's Florida made it ridiculously easy to get a Concealed Carry Weapon permit. In Los Angeles it's next to impossible to get a CCW. It was a policy that was both hailed and vilified by the usual groups.
Interesting thing. Violent crime dropped substantially. Something like 20,000 fewer violent crimes from 1997 to 1998. Pretty much everything showed a dramatic drop except forcible rape, but even those numbers dipped.
I don't know if the CCW had anything to do with it. In 2000 there was an uptick in crimes. Maybe more criminals were off the street and got out on parole in late '99. Maybe Heinlein was right and "An armed society is a polite society". I don't know.
But one thing that I had heard, and unfortunately can't corroborate, is that crimes against tourists in Florida spiked and have stayed fairly high. Is it because criminals know in Florida that the locals are armed, but the tourists aren't? No idea, but it's an interesting thought.
Societies are self regulating. Remove a central authority and at least one will emerge. In some places you get a Lord of The Flies routine, like Afghanistan, but if you shift the central authority to a more distributed model, the society will begin to police itself. People like order, and they'll gravitate to it and create it as much as possible.
I think if you armed everyone in Los Angeles you would have a spike of deaths like what you're talking about. Road rage, panicked defense shooting. The gangbangers are already armed. Give the common citizen a gun to match it and things will shift radically. Balding white men from Reseda will gun down Hispanic gangbangers in Glendale. A middle class black doctor will pop some white punk because he got in his face.
And then it will settle down. Because rapists will begin to wonder if that girl walking alone on the UCLA campus at night is packing. Because carjackers will wonder if the guy in the Porsche has a Glock.
Our social dynamic is not one of self protection. The majority of people believe that they're safe. They can walk down their street and be okay. They can sit in a parking lot at night and not get popped. None of that is true, and we have emergency rooms full of gutshot kids that tell us it isn't true. But we believe it, anyway.
I think that the thing that gives us executorial authority over others, me over you, you over me, is the responsibility we all have to make this a safer place. Safety is not simple and it isn't clean. If the police cannot protect us we have to protect ourselves.
I think that this kind of thinking requires a certain arrogance. The kind of arrogance that comes from the certainty that we're right.
Operating within the rules won't always keep us safe. We have parolees being released early because we don't have room in the jails. The 3 strikes law is a joke. It forces us to create more prisons, and at some point, if we don't do something to keep people from wanting to commit crimes, we're going to run out of room and we'll be releasing them, anyway.
Does this mean that I espouse the idea of killing some people for the good of the community? Absolutely. But I think the death penalty system in this state is a joke. It takes too long, and is overly complicated and cumbersome. We're killing old men who've forgotten what they did to get there.
Ridiculous as it sounds, I think we need Batman. We need someone who's willing to hide in the shadows and do the dirty jobs for us that we don't have the balls to do. We depend too much on the state to protect us. And it can't protect us. Hell, sometimes the state is exactly the thing we need protection from.
I don't know if this really answers your question, or gives food for debate, or if it's just talking out of my ass. I suspect the latter.