What Vigilantism Can Look Like

What do you think of when you hear the word vigilante? For many people the image of a violent revenge seeker comes to mind. But vigilantism is little more than the result o f individual taking the law into their own hands. Oftentimes the result is merely the solving of a crime that wasn’t solved by police:

The family of a kidnapped Louisiana mother tracked down and killed the father of her child in the abandoned house where he was allegedly holding her prisoner, authorities said.

Bethany Arceneaux, 29, of Duson, La., was abducted in the parking lot of a daycare where she was picking up her 2-year-old at approximately 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Department Captain Kip Judice told ABCNews.com.


Authorities searched the sugarcane field Wednesday night and all day Thursday, but to no avail, Judice said. The cane towers as high as eight feet tall and was “a brutal search area” for officials, he said.

It wasn’t until Friday morning, when Arceneaux’s family members conducted their own search in the same area that they came upon a secluded, abandoned house behind a cluster of trees.

The house was directly across the street from the field where Thomas abandoned his car, but only the home’s roof was visible from the road, Judice said.

“[The family] converged on a piece of property about a mile from where the car was found,” Judice said. “One of the family members heard what he thought was a scream.”

Arceneaux’s cousin approached the home, kicked in the door in and entered, Judice said. Inside, he found Thomas with the woman. Thomas then began stabbing Arceneaux, and a confrontation ensued.

“The cousin, who was armed, began firing several shots at Thomas,” Judice said. “After a couple of shots, [Arceneaux] was able to get free of him and they escorted her out of the house.”

People often think that vigilantism is wrong and law enforcement should be left to professionals. But professional law enforcement are often unable or unwilling to solve crimes. Sometimes you need the tenacity of an individual directly invested in the well being of a victim to achieve a happy conclusion.

Just as there are bad agents in law enforcement there are bad vigilantes. On the other hand, just as there are good agents in law enforcement there are good vigilantes. In fact I would argue that a vigilante is less likely to cause unneeded harm than police officers because vigilantes are more accountable to community members. Far too often police are put on administrative leave until their own department rules them innocent of wrongdoing after its investigation of the matter. The actions of a vigilante are most likely to be judged by community members and it’s unlikely that a community will be satisfied with a vigilante investigating his or her own actions.