Enter Vengeance

When the law fails to do its job, the morality of self-help presents itself as a viable option. Something, after all, must be done.
June 24, 2024
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We are venturing into very dangerous territory. The utter failure of leadership and the disgraceful disregard of our laws is leading some to take matters into their own hands. Others will follow. They will have no choice. The moral universe will demand it.

A theme has emerged that can no longer be ignored: as a nation, we are witnessing a disdain for law and order, and a pathological unwillingness to punish criminality.

It has led to an inversion of language. Words, the meaning of which were once well settled, have come to mean something else.  “Security” and “prosecute,” for instance, have become misnomers.

The Department of Homeland Security was created after 9/11 with the ostensible aim of securing the homeland. Since 2021, under the leadership of the recently impeached Alejandro Mayorkas, somewhere between 8 and 10 million illegal migrants have entered the United States. America’s total population is 333 million—that’s a lot of lawlessness. Mayorkas has improbably maintained, however, that the southern border remains secure.

A very dubious claim, indeed. Many recent arrivals have come from nations that are sworn enemies of the United States. Some are Islamists with jihadist ties. Eight possible ISIS-K foot soldiers were apprehended last week. I can’t think of a better example of gross negligence.

“The Department of Homeland Security” is now an Orwellian word salad with an opposing mandate. It is a federal agency spreading an overall feeling of insecurity, while shattering any confidence that someone is watching over the homeland.

Just recently, two illegal immigrants were arrested for strangling a 12-year-old girl in Texas. A young mother was killed on a running trail in Maryland by someone who was wanted for murder in his own country but roamed free around the United States. He is also a suspect in the murder of a mother and her 9-year-old daughter in Los Angeles. Five illegal migrants were arrested in Missouri for kidnapping a 14-year-old girl in Indiana. In New York, an illegal migrant attacked two 13-year-olds: brutalizing the boy and raping the girl.

Forget illegal immigration; we’re not even safe from one another. A posse of progressive district attorneys have hijacked cities plagued with the highest crime statistics and decided that laws no longer apply to criminals. In New York and Atlanta, if you’re not a former Republican President of the United States, and you happen to be a person of color, or a radical woke absolutist, you stand a very good chance of having a license to loot your local Apple Store and assault just about anyone—with a special dispensation for attacking Jews.

Call it a Defund the Police malaise that has infected American culture, politics and law. Cops decided that given the public mood, why put their lives on the line for lawless ingrates?

Defense attorneys will soon be out of jobs in places where prosecutors have reimagined their obligations as public servants. Legal Aid lawyers will be re-deployed to the Parks Department.

Crimes against white people, apparently, are now just deserts. Rioting are no longer crimes, at all. We saw that with Black Lives Matter. And, more recently, with pro-Hamas encampments and the occupation of city streets.

Manhattan’s infamous District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, decided this week not to prosecute 32 pro-Hamas agitators who seized buildings and menaced Jews at Columbia University. Another 13 will also soon have their charges dropped.

A gag order against Donald Trump, however, still remains in effect.

So, what’s a beleaguered citizenry to do? Well, one possibility is fending for themselves. Sure, tax dollars are supposed to buy the government’s protection. The bargain we all made in signing the social contract was that we surrender the rights of man in favor of the rule of law.

Tell that to the New Yorkers who apprehended the rapist who violated those two 13-year-olds. With the aid of the sketch artist, they undertook the task of tracking down the assailant. When they located him, and before calling the police, they treated him to the justice of the street. His mug shot no longer resembled the wanted poster. His face was completely rearranged.

It might inspire others to perform similar civic services. Back in 1984, in response to a spike in subway crime, Bernhard Goetz shot four teenagers who menacingly approached him. A New York jury, fed-up with rampant disorder, acquitted Goetz, by then known as the “Subway Vigilante,” of attempted murder and assault.

Street justice works underground, too.

The state of Texas has been embroiled in a legal war with the federal government on immigration enforcement. America’s failed immigration policies has had a disproportionate impact on Texans. True, immigration and border control is a federal matter. But what if Washington deliberately washes its hands of the duty? States, acting pursuant to its police powers, should be expected to take matters into its own hands. The Squad can’t get enough of illegal immigrants, but Texans have had their fill.

When the law fails to do its job, the morality of self-help presents itself as a viable option. Something, after all, must be done.

I wrote a book years ago, “Payback: The Case for Revenge.” Despite what you have been led to believe, vengeance is not without its own morality. Justice without satisfaction is no justice at all. Victims need to feel vindicated. The public demands that wrongdoers be punished. Setting things right is a moral imperative. The law must ensure that justice is done. If it can’t, or won’t, the duty may have to be delegated elsewhere.

Revenge movies—“The Searchers,” “Braveheart,” “Gladiator,” “The Revenant,” even the musical “Sweeney Todd”— are wildly popular, for a reason. If vengeance were abhorrent, audiences would walk out of theaters in disgust. Instead, they remain transfixed until the wrongdoer receives his due and moral balance is restored.

The creation of the modern state of Israel had its genesis in the Dreyfus Affair in France, and then the Holocaust. Global Jewry came to realize that it could not depend on host countries for protection. Unlike the Palestinians, Israelis grasped at statehood, and have fought their own battles ever since.

In the late 1960s, New York Jews came to a more domestic realization. Targeted for street crime, they discovered, painfully, that they were not a police priority. Out of that desperation emerged the Jewish Defense League.

These are grim times, especially for Jews. Violence against them is being excused. Appalling behavior is being unchecked, if not rewarded.

Lawlessness must come to an end, for everyone. And when it arrives, it might come unexpectedly.

Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro University, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. He is the legal analyst for CBS News Radio. His most recent book is titled “Saving Free Speech … From Itself,” and his forthcoming book is titled, “Beyond Proportionality: Is Israel Fighting a Just War in Gaza?”

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