According to the legal online dictionary, a vigilante is:
“Someone who takes the law into his/her own hands by trying and/or punishing another person without any legal authority”. Its example states: “A mother who shoots the alleged molester of her child is a vigilante”. In today’s virtual world, punishing takes other forms, as we shall see.
In our contemporary technological age, lines get blurred and other forms of citizen justice take shape. How much of it infringes on our civil liberties? How far is too far? Who is, unbeknown to us, watching us, filming us, broadcasting us? In the maze of videos that get uploaded by the million on You Tube, there is also something sinister in the mindless way (too many) people are using this medium. Aside from the cute and often humorous baby and animal videos; the information and disinformation, the noble and the crassly vulgar, we now have the tattletales and informers. Conversely, when even police enlist the help of citizens, and asks witnesses to send in their videos, it’s no wonder that qualifying what is acceptable and what goes too far, becomes confusing. The following incident squarely lies in the “not acceptable” category – the more so as the escalation thereof was wilfully instigated.
It was all over the news: a Quebec couple being attacked/threatened by a chainsaw-wielding man, in what turned out to be road-rage gone ballistic.
An initial altercation between two drivers, caused one vehicle to pursue the other, in order to teach the other driver a lesson. At a cul-de-sac, the SUV in pursuit, blocked the way to prevent the offending driver from getting away. The passengers of the pursued vehicle, and culprit of the offending maneuver: a father and his two children; we’ll call him A. Those in the second vehicle: a couple and their two children; we’ll call them B.
A gets out of the car and approaches the pursuers, who have now blocked his exit, armed with a chainsaw (we later find out that he is a landscaper by trade, hence the chainsaw in his car). He starts yelling at the couple, approaches their SUV engaging the chainsaw and wielding it wildly towards them.
Children A watch horrified. Children B scream with terror.
Meanwhile, B mother records the whole event on her smart-phone, and, incredibly, eggs A on – you can hear her yell in French, and mockingly taunt A to keep going, so that she can capture it all on video (that’s what she actually said).
Police were called to the scene and B couple explain, for the benefit of the media, that they wanted the officers to be there so that A, the culprit, could be caught; so they made sure to block the possibility for A’s exit. Local police told the media that neither side handled the situation well. Couple B, didn’t set a good example; they should never have gone after the other vehicle.
A, of course, didn’t set a good example for his children. A’s excuse to the officers was that he felt threatened when B boxed him in at the dead-end street. He wasn’t sure, after being pursued, what B were planning to do. He felt that by intimidating B with his chainsaw, they would leave.
A, was taken into custody and released later that day. Woman B, on the other hand, didn’t waste any time uploading the sad altercation on You Tube, assured of her and her husband’s innocence…
This event is only one of the many that gets uploaded on You Tube. Question is: what do people hope to achieve, by showing the world how someone else makes a fool of him/herself, in the heat of the moment?
Once calmed down and rational, A, no doubt regretted his actions, and the abysmal example he was to his children. The woman’s actions in egging on A, was nevertheless equally disgraceful; except that she proudly presented the whole mess online; it was obvious she felt justified doing so. The children on both sides were probably deeply embarrassed, besides being terrified. They will remember this scene for life.
Whatever the situation, have we human beings the right to permanently mar another’s reputation, so that we can feel vindicated? Acting like self-righteous vigilantes, in an interconnected world where such can cause irreparable damage? What if this couple experiences a moment where they loose their cool, and act or speak rashly and irrationally? How would they like the world to be witness to what they’d rather bury and forget?
Maybe we have lost perspective and the discernment to weigh what and what not to upload, before hitting the “send” or “submit” button. It’s high time we re-evaluate what gets uploaded and think through all the consequences of our possible thoughtless actions. Pondering on Jesus’s famous line: “whoever is without sin, cast the first stone” might prove very helpful, in tempering enthusiastic uploads that may unleash dire consequences – on self and others.