November 14, 2019

The downward spiral of #vigilante justice

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By From Jamaica Observer

There is a new form of vigilante justice that has emerged in our society — hashtag vigilante (#vigilante).

The Jamaican justice system has failed to inspire confidence at various levels for several decades among a large sector of the population. Among the factors that have fuelled the loss of faith are:

• the length of time that judges take to hand down judgements;

• the delay tactics that respondents and defence attorneys use to frustrate and weaken victims and plaintiffs;

• the cost of legal services;

• the seeming ease with which some people get through and get justice compared with the difficulties that others face; and

• the overall problem of the threat and perception of corruption.

At the community level, we have the problem of gangs and people in lotto scamming who trade murder for murder. They do not await the intervention of law enforcement. If a guy crosses the line in the distribution of spoils in the lotto scamming, he and his family, even his children, will be taken down.

And, in addition to the low clear-up rate for crimes like murder, in many cases when these matters eventually go to court, the victims are left with a legal bill and the felons walk free.

These realities have not only led to deep distrust of the justice system, but to the mushrooming of the practice of people taking the law into their own hands and administering their own version of justice. Thus, jungle (vigilante) justice is becoming the norm in our society.

#vigilante justice

There is a new form of vigilante justice that has emerged in our society — a friend of mine calls it “hashtag vigilante (#vigilante)”. This is the cyber version of an attack. Like the other forms of vigilante justice, #vigilante justice cites mistrust of the pace of justice and the purity of the system as the reasons for its modus operandi. But what is ironic about this new form of vigilantism is that it is using the very deficiencies of the justice system, of which it complains, to its advantage.

I am told of an interview on a television programme in which the host asked a member of the hashtag community whether consideration is given to the pain and cost suffered by innocent people and their families who have been falsely hashtagged. The reported response was that people who feel they have been wronged have recourse in the courts. So what we have is a situation in which complainants about an untrustworthy justice system are telling those whom they have wronged to take their case to the same justice system which they have essentially condemned.

One of the key characteristics of the #vigilante justice is that it is a type of guerilla warfare. People ‘go dark’ and throw their missiles. In many cases one does not know who the attacker is. When looked at from this perspective, the #vigilante justice, rather than being a form of justice, represents a threefold form of jungle injustice.

The first form of injustice is that the attacker seeks to be anonymous, and in many cases remains so, or is pseudo-named. Secondly the attackers’ actions end up hurting many innocent individuals. And thirdly, the attackers show no regard for the canons of justice that they demand they should receive.

Victim-perpetrator

The consequence of jungle justice is a downward spiral that takes us into worse and worse forms of vigilantism, social decay, mistrust, and disorder. Everyone deserves to be treated justly, and everyone who has done ill must face the just consequences of their actions, but it will become an unlivable jungle if each of us were to set up ourselves to be judge and jury in our own cause.

The problem of injustice in our society is real. It is real for victims of the State’s abuse of power, whether through the actions of the police, permanent secretaries or politicians. It is real for farmers who are the victims of lotto scamming. It is real for the victims of child sexual abuse. It is real for the victims (and members of their families) of abuse, rape, robbery, and maiming, who see the perpetrators walk free. It is real for the people who have been falsely accused of wrongdoing.

Martin Luther King Jr reminded us: “There can be no peace without justice.” But, as a society, the solution cannot be that our recourse is to impose our own version of justice on others, particularly when that ‘justice’ is nothing more than another form of injustice.

The search — and thirst — for justice by one person should not be at the expense or harm to another, unless that other is the one who had caused the injustice in the first place. If the response of each aggrieved party is to exact some form of vigilante justice, then what we will have is a downward spiral of social anarchy, and in that scenario everyone is at risk. So what was supposed to be a cure becomes part of a more complex and universal curse.

While vigilante justice may be understandable in some instances, for example, when one’s is physically threatened, vigilante justice is not an acceptable, excusable, or sustainable way to seek justice. There is the risk that those who are the perpetrators of vigilantism today could be the victims of some form of vigilantism tomorrow.

Justice-injustice line

Those who have been giving support and praise to people engaged in the newest form of vigilante justice, on the basis that the justice system is slow or corrupt, would be well advised to consider how they or their families would feel in the following scenario: Their car accidentally hits another person’s car, and the other motorist decides that the only way to get justice is to inflict bodily harm at the scene, or worse, to shoot and kill.

The point is that once we begin to justify and defend vigilante justice in one situation, we create an unending downward spiral. Once we start on that path we will soon discover that, rather than advancing our cause, we are coarsening and cheapening the quality of life for everyone. As Gandhi pointed out to us: “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”

One expects that some people will conduct themselves in a manner that is unhelpful or downright harmful to others. That is just the way things are. But my deep disappointment with this vigilante justice situation is that some of the same leaders who claim to be architects and engineers of a new and more just and caring society are giving support to the construction of new forms of injustice. One has to question the values and vision of these leaders. Their logic for supporting the hashtag form of vigilante justice is no different from the logic of lotto scammers who say they are correcting the ills of the past when Jamaicans were oppressed by white people.

These are my questions to those who are egging on and stroking the egos of perpetrators of #vigilante justice: Where does this take us? And is that destination the kind of society that you wish to see?

“Injustice anywhere”, as Dr Martin Luther King Jr reminded us, “is a threat to justice everywhere.” Put differently, injustice to anyone creates the conditions for injustice to everyone.

Justice system reform

Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck is right when he says that a major part of the solution to the problems affecting the justice system is the faster processing of matters that are placed before the court. In addition, the police must be given the resources to investigate and charge quickly. And the Office of the Director of must be equipped to prosecute speedily and successfully. In every sense, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

The Government must truly put its money where its mouth is. The various reports and studies on the reform of the justice system need to be put into action and the funding put in place to implement the accepted recommendations.

Dr Canute Thompson is a management consultant and lecturer in educational policy, planning, and leadership at the School of Education, The University of the . He is also co-founder of the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative and author of three books on leadership.

For more on this story go to: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/The-downward-spiral-of–vigilante-justice_88438

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