Commentary: Vigilantes not wanted

Law enforcement need to be vocal, public about issue for safety of community

September 1, 2020 1:09 pm
Brandon Ward (blue shirt) argues with Sully Barrett in mask. (Photo John Partipilo)

A counter-protester, in blue, confronts a protester in Franklin. (Photo John Partipilo)

This summer of political upheaval, protests and occasional violence has given Americans many troubling images –– the most recent of which was video of 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse freely walking the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin with an assault rifle last week both before and after shooting three people and killing two of them. 

Rittenhouse was apparently in Kenosha in response to a Facebook post by a group called “Kenosha Guard,” that asked if followers would be willing to “take up arms” to defend the city against those protesting the Aug. 23 shooting by police of Jacob Blake. 

By numerous accounts, Rittenhouse was a strong supporter of police, posting Blue Lives Matter memes on his social media and signing up as a cadet in a program for teens aspiring to be police officers. 

So to clarify: Rittenhouse said he was a supporter of police, many of whom are veterans of the military with extensive training, but thought he was at least as well-qualified as they were to deal with the public in a volatile situation. 

Teenage boys do a lot of stupid things –– in Rittenhouse’s case, fatal things that can’t be excused by his age –– but what of the many adults who model similar behavior?

There’s an informal group of people who claim to support law enforcement but in fact, clearly don’t think trained law enforcement personnel is up to the job and there are plenty of examples closer to home than Wisconsin. 

Just south of Nashville, Franklin has been the scene of two protests in the last six weeks that featured armed counter-protesters. In the most recent one, protesters gathered to denounce a recent law that criminalizes acts of protest that include chalk-drawn graffiti on state-owned property.

An armed counter-protester stands beside the Confederate statue owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy/ (Photo: John Partipilo)

And so, when a couple of protesters marked the Confederate statue in the town square – which is privately owned – with chalk, counter-protesters charged toward them, one with a Glock handgun strapped to his hip and a fake badge on his chest. Thankfully, no one was shot, but the result was a shoving match which culminated in a young man filing assault charges against one of the counter-protesters.

It’s hypocritical to tell everyone you support the police, you back the badge and to tout the prowess of law enforcement, but think you can do the job better without similar training. If you say you respect law enforcement but think your presence toting a weapon at a protest is needed, you have a highly inflated sense of your own skills.

By definition a ‘vigilante’ is “a member of a self-appointed group of citizens who undertake law enforcement in their community without legal authority, typically because the legal agencies are thought to be inadequate.”

Of course, as long as few in law enforcement fail to openly discourage vigilante behavior, it  stands to reason “the Protectors,” as some municipal leaders call them, feel tacit approval. And it’s no wonder in a vacuum of public pushback from law enforcement, many protesters feel cops encourage vigilante support. 

In Philadelphia, Police Chief Danielle Outlaw has condemned all acts of vigilante justice, but she’s an outlier.  

The last thing America needs now is more vigilantes on our streets and police have plenty of image problems. Police need to vocally and publicly tell vigilantes to stay home, lest they give the impression by their silence they desire more violence. 


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Holly McCall
Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.