The criminal justice system is all too easily taken for granted. This form of social control is a beacon to developed societies all over the world. It operates to protect from human rights abuse, whilst maintaining some sort of cohesion amongst citizens on a wider scale. However, we are inclined to see crime in terms of cops and robbers. Yet, throughout history, people have taken it upon themselves to pursue justice, often with tragic consequences.
Lynching for instance, still resonates in contemporary society due to its far from archaic relevance, taking place within the last 50 years. This is where the post-civil war Southern United States saw ‘mob justice’, in the form of murdered black men in the name of white supremacy, from the late 18th century through to the 1960s. The brutality that disenfranchised African Americans met with, in order to re-establish segregation, is evidence of how crime left in the hands of locals can lead to horror and further turmoil. Such disastrous consequences underline the irrational nature of people taking justice into their own hands, with a clearly obscured sense of right and wrong.
In Italy however, ‘The Mafia’ is an organized crime secret society which goes against the usual ‘herd-like’ nature of mobs. Despite their efficiency, these notorious burglars, counterfeiters and murderers contribute much unrest to society. Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone springs to mind, with a Godfather-esque willingness to resort to violence, minus the tendency to leave decapitated horse heads in beds. Thus, family orientated mobs restore ‘order’ in the very unofficial sense of the word, and as a result, widespread corruption still plagues Italy to this day.
However, unofficial justice can adopt a much more personal justification – in the name of love. Honour killings exemplify the dreadfulness of citizens pursuing self-perceived justice. This is due to love-related issues believed to bring shame upon one’s family, being seen as the justification of homicide by family members. In 2008, a woman was killed by her father in Saudi Arabia for ‘chatting’ to a man on Facebook. From having sex outside marriage to refusing an arranged marriage, these not only result in murder disguised as ‘suicide’, but can include acid attacks and mutilations.
Yet damage to reputation should not legitimise savagery, so how is such inhumaneness acceptable? These cases are much more widespread in Islamic countries given their patriarchal nature. Female subjugation in the face of male superiority means honour killings are carried out, whilst viewed an oddity in the West.
Thus, looking at the history of lynching and love we see that the rocky terrain of personal bias is best left unexplored, as ‘justice’ continues to be served in twisted ways. However, as history unfolds, we must learn that we are not the cops, and by playing cop we are merely making matters worse.