Every story of vigilante justice begins with someone who has been wronged. In 1962, a New York City burglar murdered Peter Parker’s adopted uncle, propelling Spiderman into the vigilante limelight. In Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, a fictitious England’s history of scientific experimentation on political prisoners fuels the vengeance of a man who can only be described as the letter V.
In each instance, the story’s protagonist feels his victimization warrants a particular brand of justice that falls well beyond the reach and scope of the law.
In these fictional depictions of what vigilantism might look like, the stakes are high, the personas are larger than life and morality is complicated, but no matter how many burglars Spiderman confronts, or how many villains Codename V lays to waste, we readers remain steadfast in our loyalty to the conduit of vigilante justice.
As such, every American man who has read a comic book (or, for the younger generation, seen a Hollywood adaptation) secretly prays for that moment that an injustice worthy of operating outside of the law finally comes around. He listens closely for suspicious footsteps in the night. He saunters impressively into his apartment’s living room with a lacrosse stick hoping for the opportunity to oust a robber and walk in the company of Maximus Decimus Meridius, Batman and the Punisher.
Every man secretly prays for that moment, and recently I thought HaShem had finally answered my man-prayers. An insightful member of davisfixed.com, a local bicycle forum, called me in response to a “Stolen Bike” post I’d made a few days prior. He told me that he was looking at my missing $1500 road bike on Craigslist with all its distinctive yellow parts. In addition, he was also looking at the thief’s phone-number ((916) 995-4017, check your contacts).
All of my senses became acute. I could feel my blood pressure rising and my Spidey senses tingling. I reached for my Guy Fawkes mask.
I was the Juggernaut, bitch.
I decided to give him a call and act as a fascinated prospective, asking stupid questions about a bike I knew everything about. I told him I was interested in checking it out and that I’d like to meet him at Ikea, a very public West Sacramento location.
I hung up and immediately phoned the Davis Police. I’d already filed a police report so I assumed what would follow would be a simple process: I’d meet our story’s antagonist, and the police would follow and arrest him when my bike was in plain view. Case closed.
The Davis Police informed me that because it was after hours of operation (because obviously no crime happens after 5 p.m.), they could not approach any case outside of the Davis municipality. The police departments in Sacramento told me they could not assist with any case I’d filed in Davis. Meanwhile, my thief had ended our correspondence; it seemed he’d Googled my phone number while he was waiting. The first five entries that my number returns all begin with “Stolen Bike.”
In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have used my own phone. In my hot-tempered man-moment, I had a lapse in judgment. But I still had a cell-phone number, and I’ve watched enough episodes of “Burn Notice” to know that a cell-phone number can tell a law-enforcement agency everything it needs to know.
Unfortunately, the Davis Police Department is woefully underfunded. Today, my case file sits beneath a stack of violent crimes, wrongful death investigations and allegations of sexual misconduct dating as far back as Picnic Day. Now don’t get me wrong. Comparatively speaking, this is exactly where it belongs, but it doesn’t change the fact that no law enforcement agency ever lifted a finger to help this columnist and aspiring vigilante find the man who had wronged him. Financially, I would have been much better off committing insurance fraud.
What I took away from this interaction is that sometimes the stakes of your vigilante justice story are not as high for others as they are for you. The personas are not as intriguing to a dispatch operator, and the morality is not so complicated to a seasoned detective. However, police reports are futile if the agency responsible for responding to them is too underfunded to allocate resources to those who file them. If our law enforcement agencies can only afford to ticket the speeders and the partiers, yet life is too “real” to don a poly blend mask and fight crime extra-lawfully, then what avenue is left for you and I to explore?
JOSH ROTTMAN writes his columns in the bathroom so he knows they’re the shit. Have your people reach his people at firstname.lastname@example.org.