Detroit's Turn to Vigilantisim, Otherwise Called Private Justice


While the U.S. has been busy trying to bring order to failed states in Afghanistan and elsewhere, The Daily's Mara Gay reports that its own failed city, Detroit, is continuing its steady descent into the state of nature. Residents, unable to rely on a dwindling police force to keep them safe, are taking matters into their own hands. Justifiable homicide in the city shot up 79 percent in 2011 from the previous year. The local rate of self-defense killings now stands 2,200 percent above the national average.

She writes:

How it got this bad in Detroit has become a point of national discussion. Violent crime settled into the city's bones decades ago, but recently, as the numbers of police officers have plummeted and police response times have remained distressingly high, citizens have taken to dealing with things themselves.

What's more, courts are doing the decent thing and looking the other way. Gay recounts:

Signs that vigilantism was taking hold in the city came earlier, around Memorial Day 2009, when former federal agent Alvin Davis decided he'd had enough of the break-ins at his mother's home on the east side. She called the police again and again, but the brazen robberies continued. Davis, then a 32-year-old Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer, snapped.

Prosecutors said he spent days chasing and harassing the teenagers who were allegedly robbing his mother, even shoving his federally issued firearm into one of their mouths. No one was killed, but by the time he was done, Davis had racked up charges of unlawful imprisonment and assault. In August 2010, he was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison.

But many residents in his mother's Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood are sympathetic to Davis, whose case is on appeal.

"He basically did what a lot of us wished we could do," said Ken Gray, 58, who lives down the street from Davis' mother.

One high-ranking official in the county legal system, speaking to The Daily, said the rise in justifiable homicides mirrors a local court system that's increasingly lenient of the practice.

"It's a lot more acceptable now to get your own retribution," the official said. "And the justice system in the city is a lot more understanding if people do that. It's becoming a part of the culture."

Detroiters are arming themselves with shotguns and handguns and buying guard dogs. Anything to take care of their own. And privately, residents say neighborhood watch groups in Detroit are widely armed.

And as a neighbor of Detroit's, all I can say is more power to them.

Incidentally, I am not a connoisseur of the minarchy vs. anarchy debate. But it seems that if Detroit's citizens can find some way to create a sphere of law and (spontaneous) order in the face of this massive government failure, they will offer some support for the viability of the latter.

Gaya's whole story is well worth a read.