vigilantism | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction

Vigilantism refers to the act of taking the law into one’s own hands, usually in response to a perceived failure of the criminal justice system.

Vigilantism can take many forms, including citizen patrols, neighborhood watch groups, and individual acts of violence. While vigilantism is often motivated by a desire to protect one’s community, it can also have negative consequences, including violence, discrimination, and a breakdown of trust in the criminal justice system.

One of the primary concerns with vigilantism is that it can lead to violence and a breakdown of the rule of law. When individuals take the law into their own hands, they may use force or violence to achieve their goals, which can result in harm to others and undermine the legitimacy of the criminal justice system. Additionally, vigilantism can create a sense of fear and mistrust within communities, as individuals may feel compelled to take matters into their own hands rather than rely on the criminal justice system to provide justice and protection.

Another concern with vigilantism is that it can lead to discrimination and bias. When individuals take the law into their own hands, they may be more likely to act on prejudices or stereotypes, which can result in discrimination against certain groups. For example, a neighborhood watch group may be more likely to target individuals who are perceived as being “suspicious” based on their race or ethnicity rather than on evidence of criminal behavior.

Despite these concerns, vigilantism continues to be a significant issue in many communities. In some cases, individuals may feel that the criminal justice system is ineffective or biased and may turn to vigilantism as a way to achieve justice. Additionally, the rise of social media and other forms of communication has made it easier for individuals to organize and mobilize around vigilante activities.

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Last Modified: 03/14/2023


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