Always there is the temptation to pursue our own justice when a legal system is corrupt or slow but the results are usually worse than the original alleged offense.
We often fear retaliation from neighbors if we tattle on them for violations of the law. Yet others go so far as to report even infractions by someone just trying to survive. Even though plenty of U.S. and U.K. communities encourage snitching on a variety of ridiculous topics, we don’t want vindictive neighbors reporting our comings, goings and doings as though we lived in a block of communist or fascist apartments. This is especially true when reports are false. Far better to have a caring neighbor who knows but keeps her mouth shut, unless someone breaks into our home while we’re out, or until another smells marijuana and knows there are no people next door taking it for medicinal purposes.
We Have to Report Suspicious Activity
Sometimes we have to act and report activities to the police. It all depends on what’s going down. Drug-dealing, vandalism, burglary, robbery, suspicious cars in the neighborhood, obvious abuse that we hear or see – all these things require us to get off our ‘fraidy cat couch and punch those law enforcement numbers into the phone. We are our brother’s keeper in that regard. And that includes trying to keep unruly teenagers from ruining their future and that of others.
That said, the police will usually tell you NOT to get involved yourself, to stay at a safe distance. Of course, it depends on our background, training and skills. In addition, if someone’s life is in danger, we can’t always wait for patrol cars to arrive, even if the airship gets there first to nail the offender in its sights. Yet there’s a difference between being a Good Samaritan and being a thundering idiot.
The Next Time You Want to Play Vigilante
So the next time you are tempted to destroy a neighbor’s sprinkler system because it’s shooting into the street for 10 minutes, beginning at 4 a.m., try waiting till daylight instead. Then knock on the neighbor’s door to find out if they need help adjusting the sprinkler heads. They might be rude but you can at least try. You just might find out the husband is literally dying and the elderly wife is unable to take care of such mundane but difficult chores.
By the way, if you think no one else knows who carried out the vandalism, think again. It will be rather difficult to find someone to help you when you need it yourself later on. No one likes a snoop but they really dislike vigilantes!
The next time you run to the phone and report a neighbor for hand watering a shrinking front lawn twice a week during approved time slots, make sure you have all your facts straight before you open your mouth.
I’ll use myself as an example of the above:
- My water usage is already down at least 50% from last year.
- My front yard is about one-third dead and my large backyard has been 90% dead for the past three years;
- I’ve spent over $3,400 having huge trees cut down out back;
- My koi died from the resulting lack of shade and the fishpond is now an ugly hole in the ground.
So don’t tell me I’m wasting water! If you’ve just got to do your civic duty as you perceive it, there are far greener yards than mine. But don’t be surprised if your facts are wrong at their houses, too. MOST of us are doing whatever we can to conserve water.
For Los Angeles City residents, check here for your water guidelines.
The Ox-Bow Incident
There are, of course, far worse historical events in the vigilante realm, including lynchings. For an eye-opening look at what can happen when people decide to take the law into their own hands (or just stand by while others do), I urge non-believers to read The Ox-Bow Incident written in 1940 by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. It is a searing indictment of mob violence, a psychological study of how men choose evil in a crowd. It was later made into a low-budget movie, starring Henry Fonda. The cast believed in the story and worked for scale.
Vigilante Behavior is Not New
Vigilante behavior has been with the world for centuries, even for thousands of years, with brothers avenging the violation of a sister, for example. This, of course, doesn’t apply to those cultures still immersed in the Middle Ages where the woman is not avenged by her own family but is further shamed and abused by them, being condemned to a “life” in the back room of a home that she is never allowed to leave, at least not in daylight.
Ignorance knows no boundaries even today. People who do not think their behavior is wrong will not listen to those trying to teach them a better, kinder, more Christ-like way.