Since when is a vigilante a hero?

I was thinking today about an episode of Frasier, where our lovable Dr. Crane is annoyed by being the butt of repeated impoliteness. The last straw breaks the camel’s back as a table he had been waiting for at a cafĂ© is taken by a man who just arrived. Frasier loses it, decides to give him an “etiquette lesson” and physically throws him out.

The moral of the story becomes clear later, as his show’s listeners hear of his “heroic” act and teach others “etiquette lessons” of their own, answering inconsiderateness with more and more violent acts. Frasier appeals for calm, having learned his lesson that fighting fire with fire doesn’t work.

Claude Landry clearly hasn’t seen that episode, or he wouldn’t be whoring this YouTube video to the media. In it, he spots a man emptying his car’s ashtray onto the sidewalk, grabs a handful of it and throws it in the driver’s lap.

Now, the story has been picked up by CTV, CBC and The Gazette (who are still unable to link to YouTube videos in their stories), skyrocketing its exposure to over 35,000 views. According to CTV, the video even got the mayor’s blessing (this according to his brother Marcel — I guess CTV is unable to get quotes from the mayor himself). Since when is assault something that is encouraged by politicians? Did it come in a package deal with the new pro-racist agenda of the Quebec election campaign?

I’m not saying I’m perfect. Just yesterday on my way home, I got one of my buttons pushed as some inconsiderate kid tried to get on the bus without waiting in line. I nudged my way in front of him, pushing him back lightly in the process. I thought it was a bad-ass move, but I don’t consider myself a hero for it.

None of the mainstream press is making this point yet, and the blogosphere (well, the four posts I’ve found so far) is split. Basil is on my side. Dave is not. Neither is Mark. Or Grame. What’s your take?

UPDATE: Dave has a lengthy reply to my post on his blog.

9 thoughts on “Since when is a vigilante a hero?

  1. lambic

    Strictly speaking, a vigilante is a member of an organised group, but semantics aside, what really happened here (assuming it wasn’t staged)? A guy witnessed a crime and confronted the criminal. If more people confronted people they see performing criminal acts, maybe my bike wouldn’t have been stolen this week.

    Now maybe throwing butts at the driver wasn’t the best approach to the situation, and running away afterwards was a tad cowardly but it was better than tsking inwardly and walking on by.

  2. Basil

    No, it was not the best approach. Littering is a crime, but it’s one that should be solved by the government. Not random attention seekers.

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  4. lambic

    ok, consider this: two schoolkids in England saw a guy grab a teenage girl and drag her into an alley. They chased him off by yelling and throwing rocks at him. Is that vigilante justice? Should those kids have let the government solve it?

    If you see a crime, it is your *responsibility* as a citizen to do something about it. What that something is is open to interpretation and sometimes in the heat of the moment you might do an inappropriate thing but the most inappropriate thing is to do nothing at all.

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  6. lambic

    Ah I see, so being a “vigilante” is only ok for the crimes you think it’s ok for. So where do we draw the line? Can I hit a burglar with a baseball bat when I find him in my bedroom? Can I rugby tackle someone I find stealing my bike? Or is being a vigilante only ok when someone is in imminent bodily harm? How much harm exactly?

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