The keyboard warriors are in full force these days, while never lifting more than fingers.
It’s all too easy with the ubiquity of social media, and our devices to connect to said media, to tap out frustrations. Eliciting fighting words without any real fight is all too common.
The alternatives are digital complacency or, what? Vigilantism?
As we see anecdotal increases in property crime, the keyboard warriors, all of us, tap-tap-tap ever fervently, hoping the metaphorical scream into the digital void will do something.
Being a vigilante is dangerous, unreliable, and unethical as it emerges from a rejection of the rule of law, and evokes an individualized, almost frontier mentality.
Who decides what’s right and wrong? Each and every one of us at any given time?
I had a moment of vigilantism recently after seeing a post from a mother whose nine-year-old daughter’s purple bike was stolen. It was a distinct bike, both the frame shape and the colour. And because I have a daughter that age, it pissed me off.
Then, amazingly, I saw a grown man on the bike. So I asked myself: What do I do now?
I followed him and quickly realized it’s hard to follow a guy on a bike while driving a car. Eventually I rolled my window down and said I knew it was stolen. I asked if he wanted to give it back. He ignored me and I lost him.
But then, even more amazingly, three hours later, there was the bike again. With a different guy on it.
So I followed yet again to the front door of the downtown Save-On where I said/asked: “That’s a stolen bike. You want to give it up?”
Not exactly a bravado moment of vigilante justice as I called out from the safety of my car, in public, with a camera rolling on him.
“You want to take it?” he asked.
“Ya, please,” I responded just as Canadianly as I could.
And like that, a nine-year-old got her bike back.
I recount this not to brag – although it did feel good to hear from a grateful mother – but because it brings forth the issue of vigilantism.
Recently an employee of our newspaper rousted a man sleeping up against the building. She went to her car and the man came over and threatened her with a knife. Jeffrey Timmerman is now facing numerous charges, none of which have been proven in court.
Confronting people doing bad things isn’t a great idea.
“Police want to stress that at no time should the public take the law into their own hands,” said Cpl. Amelia Hayden.
Cpl. Hayden isn’t talking about what I did or what my colleague did, but rather a group in Port Alberni who allegedly kidnapped and restrained a child luring suspect.
“Vigilante actions like these are not only illegal and put people in danger, but they also have the potential to compromise the original ongoing investigation,”
Creep Catchers routinely brags about their self-gratifying vigilantism, which has turned sport and entertainment with online videos of alleged pedophiles being caught luring children for sex.
But what they do is useless to the police and Crown counsel. This vigilantism is often done by people who are recovering victims themselves, maybe as a form of displaced revenge, maybe just for fun.
What is worrying with all this is that an instinct to be angered over a young girl’s bike being stolen parallels this more serious vigilante justice, and is but a symptom of a larger phenomenon of which we’ve barely scratched the surface.
Justice, in whatever form that takes, should be what we are all after.
Whether it’s online shaming or vigilante justice, trouble is around the corner as people feel disenfranchised by the system. Cameras are ever more ubiquitous and shared more easily on social media, and people may increasingly put away the keyboards and start to lash out.
I got lucky with my safe-enough, request from the car to give back a stolen bike.
But I wonder what a more aggressive, sick-and-tired vigilante might have done. And might yet do.
Someone is going to get hurt.
Paul Henderson is a reporter with The Chilliwack Progress