Posts Tagged ‘Charles Ramsey’

Vigilante Justice, Continued

June 19th, 2009 No comments

According to an article on (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.

Vigilante Justice OK in Philadelphia

June 8th, 2009 2 comments

An eleven-year-old girl was brutally raped here in Philadelphia last week. The details hardly matter to the heinousness of the crime, but surgery was required. When the suspect was cornered by a couple of local guys who identified him from a news report, he was “held” for the police. At least that’s the description that was given by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who has so far decided not to press charges against any of these vigilantes, who beat the man so badly about the head that he, too, was hospitalized. Here’s the AP’s story:

“We don’t condone violence”?? By declining to press charges, that’s exactly what Ramsey is doing, his blather about “a use of force continuum” notwithstanding. I think everyone knows that, whatever the niceties of the limits of permissible force, “pummelling a man for several minutes” exceeds them. The Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby was at least honest: “He got what he got.” And two of the attackers also “got” to split a handsome reward for their actions: Almost $6,000 each. McNesby forthrightly stated that “there wasn’t even a second thought” about giving this award. I wonder if the two men were chosen based on the level of injuries inflicted on the suspect.

In this story, Ramsey offered this additional justification for the mob’s actions: “You have to think about the emotion involved in this.”

But that’s exactly why charges should be filed, if appropriate investigation and evidence so warrant. As a parent, I would also want to tear this creep apart. That’s why we are a nation of laws, where even understandable emotional responses are punished if criminal. What if the mob had killed this guy? Would the commissioner take the same position? But it might only be a matter of luck that he was “only” hospitalized and not killed. It’s precisely for those cases where the temptation towards vigilantism is greatest that the criminal law system is most needed. Otherwise, we can expect the next case to bring a Clint Eastwood level of unchecked retribution.

And the thirst for summary justice can even be slaked against the wrong guy. In this case, one of the vigilantes apologized to another man who was mistakenly beaten, in what I’m sure  the police commissioner will regard as an understandable exercise of “citizen’s enthusiasm.” At least the mob got to hone its technique before using it on the true rapist. At least let’s hope they picked the real criminal this time. If not, perhaps the third time will be the charm.

None of this is to say that the emotional component can’t be taken into account. This is a proper consideration in a number of places throughout the criminal law system, including: which charges are brought (the law distinguishes between different levels of culpability); the jury’s ability to find guilt on lesser crimes where circumstances warrant; and the judge’s discretion in sentencing. But declining to bring charges at all sends a terrible message: Those charged with enforcing the law will ignore it when politically expedient.