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Opinions: Taking the law into their own hands

by Casandra De Masi August 27, 2013
Opinions: Taking the law into their own hands

“If you want something done right, do it yourself.” This is an old saying that can be applied to many situations. However, the validity of this personal motto comes into question when law enforcement is involved.

Vigilante justice. The term has been circulating Canadian news recently, mainly as a result of the Rehtaeh Parsons case. As of Aug.15, two boys are facing child pornography charges, after allegedly sexually assaulting the then 15-year-old Parsons in 2011 and circulating photos.  The boys identities are being kept hidden, because they were minors at the time of the crime.

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

 Many are upset that there are no sexual assault charges. On Aug. 9,CBC reported that police yet again warned “that anyone who takes direct action against suspects in the Rehtaeh Parsons case will face legal consequences.”

Popular online group Anonymous played a large role in this investigation. According to the Huffington Post, the group spoke out against those supporting the boys after Parsons’ death following an attempted suicide back in April.

 The investigation in this case was slow, and at one point non-existent. Back on April 19, the group accused police of hypocrisy and “protecting their own interests.” Anonymous did their own investigating and managed to acquire the names of the four boys involved. They threatened to release the names if Halifax police did not reopen the case.

The fact that there are people out there who can hold the government and law enforcement agents accountable for their actions is empowering for citizens. People should not allow those in charge to get too comfortable and let details slip through the cracks when they think we aren’t paying attention. However, the backlash that could follow when people take the law into their own hands is also quite worrisome.

If the names of the boys in the Parsons case were released to the world, the reins would be handed over to civilians. There is no telling what some people can and would do, which could possibly create a whole other mess for police, distracting from the initial case in question.  Not to mention that releasing the names would actually violate the Youth Criminal Justice Act, according to CBC.

There is a difference between those keeping the police on their toes, and those taking the law into their own hands, breaking the law in the process. The problem with vigilante justice is the lack of organization and compliance with our legal system. Whether you agree with the way a case is being handled or not, harassing, threatening or harming someone who is suspected of a crime, no matter how heinous, is a crime in itself and could cost someone’s life. Just last month a California couple shot and killed their neighbour, whom they suspected of molesting their four- year-old daughter at a sleepover, according to NBC News, Aug.23. Investigators later found that no such foul act against the child had occurred.

Social media has played a starring role in this new form of online and at home investigating, but it is important to remember that there is a lot of false and unverified information online. Those playing FBI on Reddit or Twitter can easily circulate false information without knowing it. Take the example of Sunil Tripathi, the man falsely accused of being the Boston Bomber.

Tripathi was missing at the time, his family searching and worried for him as he had a history of depression.  Social media users began circulating his photo. They said he resembled one of the suspects. This was later dismissed once police announced their suspects were the Tsarnaev brothers. However, all the posts incriminating Tripathi were already out there and couldn’t be taken back. When you put it on the Internet, it’s nearly impossible to erase. Tripathi’s false accusation not only affected him, but also his family. It’s important to remember that everyone is innocent until proven guilty by a court of law and the public needs to let the justice system do its job, otherwise innocent people will be irreparably damaged.

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