According to an article on philly.com (which hosts both the Inquirer and the Daily News), vigilante justice is OK with the prosecutors and the police — sometimes. The story details the prosecution of a man who beat another guy who’d allegedly raped his 14-year-old niece. The uncle who did the beating, Antwione Hough, has been charged with a series of crimes and forced to spend some $10,000 in bail and court costs.
As they used to tell us in Social Studies class: Compare and contrast the case of the Kensington mob who so severely beat up on a rape suspect in a different case that the alleged rapist was sent to the hospital. The mob’s punishment was a reward in excess of $10,000. (Actually, only two of the men received the reward; a shame there wasn’t more to go around, I guess.)
Confronted with this apparent inconsistency, the DA declined to comment. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said this:
“I think you have to look at what’s reasonable in terms of actions taken by members of the public. If an individual is wanted by the police for a felony, and you restrain him, how much force is too much? Every case is different.”
So we’d decide whether the attackers had acted criminally by looking at the level of violence used. That statement is in conflict with another official statement on the propriety of citizen violence, made in connection with the case that didn’t result in prosecution:
“They don’t have a use of force continuum out there.” (Translation: They can do whatever they think they need to.)
This earlier statement was made by, um, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.
Thus is the peril of vigilantism laid bare. It seems that the DA and the Police Commissioner respond based on the politics and the community sense of outrage in a particular case. But that’s not how it’s supposed to work. And the fact that a poll taken in connection with this same story showed that almost 2/3 of those responding favored vigilantism only cements the point: Many have the instinctive sense that something much be done. But as I’ve argued, lawlessness breeds more of its kind. If those charged with enforcing law can’t be trusted to act consistently and neutrally, we shouldn’t be surprised if vigilantes are emboldened. But their actions are judged by the whim of the prosecutor.
Where is Mayor Michael Nutter in all of this? He supported the vigilantes in the Kensington case. I’d be tempted to say that Nutter might have decided differently had he attended law school, but legal training doesn’t appear to have benefited the DA in this case.