UK riots: are vigilantes heroes or villains?
First reaction: the police don’t like them but some see vigilante groups as heroes of the community
Groups of local people have been taking to the streets to protect their homes and businesses as violence continues to sweep across the country, but the rise of these vigilante patrols has divided opinion.
In south London members of the English Defence League reportedly teamed up with football supporters to 'protect' their neighbourhood, sparking accusations of racism, and there were similar concerns raised as groups patrolled in Enfield and Eltham (above). Elsewhere, Asian communities gathered in Southall, and Turks and Kurds turned out in Dalston and Haringey to prevent looting.
It undermines the police. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Kavanagh, from the Metropolitan Police, was adamant that they were not helping matters.
He told Sky News: "What I don't need is these so-called vigilantes, who appeared to have been drinking too much and taking policing resources away from what they should have been doing - which is preventing the looting.
"Ironically, when you see those images with no police available, the police are now having to go and do the vigilantes as well as the other problems that they've got. That needs to stop."
They are defending society. Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph disagrees with Kavanagh and describes the shopkeepers of Dalston and Hackney who defended their businesses with baseball bats as "heroes".
"Few of us want vigilantes, but many would like a version of the Home Guard directed against indigenous threats to peace," he says. "At last, a Big Society project that could get some traction!"
In the same paper Ed West praises them and says that "at a time when the word 'community' is so misappropriated, they were the genuine thing – united, courageous and determined to face the hoodies down and make them scared."
Their reaction shows that private enterprise works. JP Floru of the Adam Smith Institute writes on Conservative Home that it should come as no surprise that private individuals will act if there is a void left by the police. Indeed, he says, it should be encouraged.
"Let us use private individual action to counter the rioters: allow individuals to defend their own property," he says. "When state protection of citizens fails, citizens need to be given the unambiguous power to defend themselves and their property... Individuals will act when the state fails. They are better at it in any event."
Smearing the vigilantes is snobbery. Patrick Hayes, a reporter for the website Spiked, spent an evening with the group in Enfield and writes: "It is testament to today's snooty view of white working-class communities that many assume that any gathering of a few hundred white blokes must be a racist pogrom-in-the-making."
They may be boisterous but they are making an effort, he says, quoting one of the group who told him: "I'd rather be out here trying to do something than being cooped up at home watching everything go to shit on the telly."
But, it's not just on the streets that vigilantes are appearing. Online groups - already, and unfortunately, christened 'digilantes' - are hunting down rioters using new technology. Forbes social media blogger Kashmir Hill comments: "Web vigilantes are doing their best to make sure facial recognition technology gets a fair shake in the London riots."
But just as there are concerns about what happens when people take the law into their own hands on the streets, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of vigilantes teaming up with Big Brother.
Writing for Time magazine's Techland site, Jerry Brito says of the use of facial recognition technology on sites like Facebook is "reminiscent of Iranian authorities asking the public to help identify Green Revolution protesters captured by cell phone cameras". ·
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