Crime and Punishment and Creep Catchers

The pitfalls of vigilante justice

vigilantism-by-nicole-kwit

(Nicole Kwit)

It seems that there has always been a special place for the extrajudicial vigilante in our culture. From Batman to Dirty Harry to that masked dude from V for Vendetta, popular narratives have run wild with gritty, vindictive anti-heroes that endeavor to take justice into their own hands for better or worse.

It’s a tempting idea for many. There are people out there who have taken the role of the vigilante straight from the comic books and are trying it on as a real-life vocation.

Creep Catchers is an online Canadian organization of people who track down internet predators with the intentions of confronting them in reality, a la Chris Hansen. Their intention seems to be that once the creep is caught, the affair can be turned over to the police and the suspect can be subjected to the full force of the law. Recently, however, the Surrey-based chapter of Creep Catchers ended up discovering that one of the pedophiles they had set up was in fact an officer of the RCMP.

Justice may be blind, but it still seems to have a sense of irony.

For a while, the group was able to enjoy a bit of fame for their success, and it seemed that their operations really were making a difference and dealing out justice in a small part for society as a whole. And then they took it too far.

At the end of September, Darrell Berekoff had his picture posted to the Creep Catcher’s Facebook page. The picture was posted by Ryan Laforge, the founder of the Surrey side of the group, in an attempt to discern whether or not Berekoff had fit the description of one of the predators they had caught on camera in the summer. Members of the Facebook group accused Berekoff of being a pedophile and began to harass him, unaware that he was actually innocent, and that the similarities were entirely coincidental. Berekoff and his family received death threats over the phone and online, and his reputation had been severely poisoned, perhaps irreversibly.

Laforge has since apologized, somewhat dismissively, and maintains that the group will continue doing what they do. Unfortunately, it looks like Berekoff has been reduced to an involuntary test-subject in a social experiment on mob justice gone wrong. In the court of public opinion, the scales of justice are never fairly balanced.

But isn’t that the point?

Mob justice and vigilantism seem to be symptomatic of society’s intolerance for the perceived failures and inefficiency of the traditional legal justice system, and in a perfect world, where pedophiles and bank robbers and war criminals were getting their just dues, people wouldn’t feel it necessary to supplement their own brand of homemade justice. It’s misguided, messy, and out of control, and until our criminal justice system catches up to society’s expectations, I’m afraid we’ll keep seeing vengeful guys like Laforge taking matters into their own hands. We’ll keep seeing innocent guys like Berekoff getting caught in the crossfire.

 

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