Will violent crime spark vigilante justice?

James H. Lilley

By definition, a vigilante is a protector, defender or guardian and, as such, may belong to a vigilance committee. But, when you define vigilance committee according to Webster, you have "a group organized outside of legal authority to keep order and punish crime, because the usual law enforcement agencies do not exist, or are alleged to be inefficient."

In light of recent events, it certainly seems that the entire judicial process is inefficient, and the word alleged should be removed from the definition. But, the ineffectiveness of the judicial system didn't occur overnight, and indeed the fault doesn't lie exclusively at the doors of our justice system. In the long term, American Society as a whole is to blame for the failures and inconsistencies of our legal processes.

America has eroded from a once strong nation, bound by honor and having the courage to insist upon a disciplined society, to a country slowly drowning in a cesspool of crime and injustice. But, this cesspool we are slipping down into, is a sewer of our own making. And, as difficult as it might be to accept the truth, it's time for everyone to look into the mirror and ask, "what have I contributed to America's failings?"

If you say, "Nothing," it's time to step back and look into the face of everyday America and tell me what you see. Chauncey Bailey being executed on the streets of Oakland, California, because he was going to write a story that would have shown Your Black Muslim Bakery in a less than favorable light. A family in Baltimore, Maryland having their car vandalized, obscenities scrawled on their windows and doors and finally their home was firebombed, because they reported drug dealers to the police.

The end result of the firebombing in this particular incident was not fatal, as they were to another Baltimore mother and her children who stood up to the local drug dealers only some months ago. Jose Carranza, an illegal immigrant out on bond for crimes of violence, which included the rape of a five-year-old, took part in the cold-blooded murders of three college students in Newark, New Jersey. Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, after being paroled early, raped and murdered three members of the Petit family in Cheshire, Connecticut.

John Couey, a man with 25 prior arrests, abducted nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford and, after raping her, buried her alive. Teenagers across the country, boys and girls, are calling it a sport to attack and beat the homeless. In 2006 there were a reported 122 attacks and 20 murders of homeless persons. Many of these attacks were videotaped by the perpetrators and posted on the Internet. In Virginia, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Toni Fay prosecuted Eugene Marriott after he raped and sodomized a woman, but stunned everyone when she wished him well in open court.

In Tennessee, Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom were carjacked, raped, mutilated and murdered. In January 2007 Denver Broncos Cornerback Darrent Williams was gunned down after leaving a New Year's Eve Party. Back in Baltimore, Maryland, Brandon Grimes, a young thug with 17 prior arrests, shot and killed Police Detective Troy Chesley while attempting to rob him. Grimes was out on bail, awaiting trial on weapons charges when he murdered Chesley.

Drug dealers have taken over city streets, and are willing to kill anyone who dares to infringe on their turf. But, they won't stop with murdering a rival dealer. Next, is the intimidation of witnesses who might have been nearby when the execution was carried out.

Threats against them and their family most often send them into hiding and, even when located by police, they will deny seeing or hearing anything related to the killing. Messages, in the form of vandalism, threats and beatings, are sent to the law-abiding citizens who reside in these areas and they are forced to live their lives in fear, because far too often they can't afford to move away. And, because they can't afford to move to a new home in a safer neighborhood, they are truly being held hostage in their own homes.

But, this problem is no longer unique to urban streets in our country. Violent and other drug related crime has spread to the suburbs and drug dealers and thugs are terrorizing neighborhoods there. Some counties, especially those bordering our larger cities, are experiencing greater problems, because of their close proximity to these high crime areas. Sounds of gunfire have become commonplace throughout the night in our cities and what were once quiet streets in the suburbs, and the words "fear and "afraid" are household words.

Many victims of violent crime are the thugs themselves, however when they are gunned down in streets, you'd think the Pope himself had just been murdered. Family members weep and wail before the TV cameras, proclaiming their son or daughter to be a saint, and demand to know where the police were when their child was killed. Well, let's start with you. Where were you when your thug son turned to a life of crime, or your drug-addicted daughter started prostituting herself to support her habit?

As a parent, it's your responsibility to raise your children to respect themselves, those around them, and the law. It's your job to teach them right from wrong, and to guide them to adulthood, with a firm hand if necessary, and instill in them the pride to make something of themselves-other than a drug dealer, pimp, car thief, burglar, bank robber, or prostitute. That's not an obligation of the school system, or those in the law enforcement profession.

But, far too many parents don't give a damn what their children do as long as they don't bother them while they're doing it. Too many of you think your responsibility to your child ends when they can walk, reach the food on the table and fend for themselves as best they can. Yet, you're the first to blame someone else for your failures, but you need only look in the mirror to see the person who's really at fault.

If you think these comments are being directed at only inner city families, you're wrong. The same problems exist in our more affluent segments of society, only they believe their means allows them to do as they please, and conceal the dilemmas facing their families with money thrown about here and there.

Money can buy a lot of favors, and it has over the years, but it can't keep children from turning to a life of crime. In addition to rape and murder, the little rich kids are committing burglaries, vandalizing property, using and selling drugs and killing themselves with the high powered cars given to them by "loving" parents.

I assure you that police officers have heard these children say, "My parents don't care what I do. They don't care how late I stay out. They're doing their own thing and haven't got time for me." And, if you think I'm making that up, you're living in a fantasy world.

Police officers working the more well-to-do neighborhoods, and who know the families residing there, will often tell you that some parents are too busy with weekend parties, pursing their careers and extra marital affairs to know what their children are doing. But, these same parents will lash out at police and malign the entire system if their child is arrested. That's when we hear all about their friends in high places and how many law suits the police will face for false arrest.

Yet, bought and paid for friends of influence can be very helpful in making charges disappear, and again this isn't fiction. Remember, politicians hold fund raisers to gather money for their campaigns, and people of means, as well as big corporations, pour dollars into their pockets with promises regarding the future tucked comfortably away.

I once heard a man running for office say, "I'm the best politician money can buy." I think that statement speaks for itself. Most important here is the example being given by both parents and politicians. They're saying you don't have to accept responsibility for your actions as long as you have the means to escape.

When we look to our schools, especially our public schools, we find still another breakdown in the system. Teachers can't discipline a problem student, or hold a student back for poor grades, because it could damage their self-esteem. But, school principals often won't allow teachers to do their jobs because they believe it will have negative effects on their futures.

Therefore, they order teachers to look the other way, or hand out the passing grade to a student who can't read or write. So, the problem is passed on to someone else, and only multiplies with time. Fights, beatings and sexual assaults have become such a part of our school system that we have to have police officers assigned to the schools. Still, that hasn't put a stop to crime there.

When we turn to the police and ask what they've contributed to the failures in the system, we should begin with the department's top cop. Chiefs of Police are political appointees, and serve at the pleasure of the Governor, Mayor, or County executive who appointed them to office.

Too often their political views, and willingness to support polices of their boss dictate the running of their office, not their ability to perform as the community's top law enforcement officer.

Disagreeing with the boss' point of view can land them in the unemployment line. Of course, there are the friends of the elected official who cry foul when they are cited for a traffic violation, or their son or daughter is arrested. That's when the policy changes come down and traffic enforcement is no longer conducted in certain neighborhoods, and greater "discretion" is ordered regarding the arrests of sons or daughters of particular families.

Then, if the man or woman who appointed the chief of police loses the next election, they could find themselves out of a job anyway, and they usually do. Thus, we lose a number of highly qualified chiefs of police, because they are victims of politics. The office of chief of police should be held by the man or woman most qualified, not the man or woman who swears political allegiance to a particular party or boss.

The most competent man or woman filling the office of chief of police will ensure better service to the community they serve, and maintain a smoothly running department. Replacing the chief every four to eight years, for political reasons, disrupts the everyday operation of the entire organization. And, this disruption is most often felt in the community.

There are also chiefs of police who are using the office as a mere stepping stone for their own political ambitions. Sorry, but politics and policing don't mix. A man or woman serving as chief of police, and harboring aspirations to political office, should step down immediately and pursue their personal goal. It is absolutely impossible for anyone to serve as chief of police and give 100 percent to the members of the department, and their community while running for office.

How can a chief say that they can keep their personal goals separate from their professional obligations? Don't you think some people might be intimidated into contributing to a chief's campaign because of his or her position? Would others fear retaliation of some form if they failed to contribute? Would political ambition cloud a chief's decision-making ability in certain matters?

And, what would happen if the son or daughter of someone who contributed a substantial amount of money to the chief's election campaign were arrested? Will that chief stand by the officer who made the arrest, or hurry to protect his or her political future? What wins the battle, personal ambition, or police professionalism?

We cannot overlook the "front line troops" in our police departments when we look at issues that add to our list of shortcomings. Over the past several weeks I've talked with a number of defense attorneys, prosecutors, former police officers and local businessmen and women about our present day law enforcement officers.

They were unanimous in their belief that today's officers aren't as dedicated to the profession as were the men and women of years gone by. Almost all agreed that many of today's officers look at law enforcement as a job, which provides them with a substantial paycheck and a means to support their family, and the motto "protect and serve" is secondary to that end.

Officers, who are doing barely enough to get by, threaten lawsuits for workplace harassment when they are told to improve their daily production. It's not establishing a quota policy to tell someone who isn't writing traffic citations or warnings, or making any type of criminal arrests to go out and do their job.

That's what police officers are supposed to do. There is a small minority of female officers who will cry sexual harassment, or file suit claiming sexual harassment when things don't go their way. They want a particular assignment, or are transferred out of a specialized section of a department for failure to meet standards, and the threats begin.

But, these suits are motivated by selfish ambition, or personal grudge and take precedent over their sworn duty and obligation to the community. Unfortunately, too many departments give in because they fear the adverse publicity, which is sure to follow the allegations.

My last article stated my feelings regarding the justice system, but to restate my position, the whole system has become a farce. Murderers, rapists and drug dealers are released back into our neighborhoods everyday, because society's bleeding hearts want to give them second, third, fourth, or countless chances to prove they've changed. The only thing they prove is the fact that they are career criminals with no intent of ever becoming a productive part of American society.

Felons with 20, 30 and 40 arrests are treated as though they deserve special concessions, because someone feels they were deprived as children. Thus, the only rights accorded by the criminal justice system are those given to the murderers, rapists and thugs who are swallowing our neighborhoods. Rights for the victims and law-abiding citizens in this country are no more than false political promises made every election year. Sadly, voters haven't learned that political promises are as unfailing as Ford Motor Company's Edsel.

At the top of this page I said American Society as a whole was to blame for our failures. To offer support for this statement I refer you to the August 29, 2007 edition of the Washington Post and the article titled "The Violence is Rooted in the Culture, Not the Gun Store" by Courtland Milloy. One paragraph of the article speaks volumes about our society. "In my honest opinion, I'm not so concerned about the prevalence of guns," said Kenny Barnes, founder of a D. C. based anti-gun violence campaign called Guns Aside. "Violence isn't the issue; it's a symptom. It's the result of too many dysfunctional households, failing schools, drug and alcohol abuse and a saturation of music that promotes self-destruction."

Now, combine these failures from top to bottom and the end result is crime and criminals overrunning our society. Like it or not, the imperfections running rampant in our homes, schools, police departments, courtrooms, parole and probation, and juvenile justice departments are our own doing, because we failed to put a stop to the problems when they first began. As a whole, we lacked the backbone to stand up and demand a firm and fair justice system, with consideration given to victims and law-abiding citizens.

The ACLU and the bleeding hearts have browbeat the entire justice system into believing the criminal accused and convicted of a crime was being treated unfairly. Violent sexual predators are returned to the streets, over the objections of prosecutors, even though all reports indicate they will likely rape or molest again.

Why? Because our courts rule that these offenders have paid their debt to society. And, God forbid that a hardened killer be given a death sentence, even one who found great pleasure in torture and dismemberment of his victim. A death sentence brings only louder cries of ill treatment and cruel and inhumane punishment. And, this is exactly why more and more people have no faith whatsoever in our so-called criminal justice system.

Because of the continued failings of our system, how much frustration has built up inside our victims, victim's families, and mainstream citizens? How long has this rage been gnawing away at them? How much longer will it eat away at them before they've had enough and decide to fight back? Is it possible that, in the not so distant future, we might see a wave of vigilante justice sweep across the country? Or has it already begun and we haven't heard about it, because publicizing such events might inspire others to take up their own cause?

There are two instances, which I'm aware of, that did not receive a great deal of media attention, if any, when they occurred. A man broke into the home of a woman he'd previously dated, beat and raped her. Police arrested the man, but he was soon released on bond to await trial. The woman's sons found the man and pummeled him with baseball bats in retribution for what he'd done to their mother. The grand jury refused to indict the young men, saying the man who'd raped their mother had gotten exactly what he deserved.

In the second instance, a man confronted a group of young people who were trespassing on his property, which was clearly marked "No Trespassing." He ordered them off his property, but they left only after telling him they'd be back to "take care of him." A short time later they returned with baseball bats and sought out the owner of the property. When they found him, he opened fire with a shotgun wounding several of them. Again, the grand jury refused to indict; saying the man had a right to defend himself and his property.

In these cases, anger and fear of suffering great bodily harm fueled the acts of retribution and were confined to those particular incidents. Yet, decent, hard-working people face terrifying acts of violence every day, and we can only ask how much longer they will be willing to tolerate the injustice. If someone serves up a well-deserved act of retaliation, I wonder if witnesses might remain as silent for the vigilante as they have in the past for the thug? If so, this time they may believe they're remaining silent on the behalf of justice overdue. If the vigilante is identified and arrested, will the grand jury refuse to indict, while saying he turned the other cheek long enough? And the answer to this question just might be a resounding, "YES."