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Official vigilantes.

The case of Bernhard Goetz has become a kind of diagnostic test for sensitivity to issues of public justice, police authority and race relations. While many New Yorkers have reacted with riotous and racist fantasies of revenge, the press and political leaders have sought to set forth more palatable solutions to the problem of crime. There's an idea floating around for a National Police Corps that would bring middle-class students into the business of social control at the curbside level. It seems a fitting monument to the official vigilantism of the Reagan era.

A New York Times editirial on January 27 announced that "110 percent of the American public" supported the subway vigilante and concluded, "Government has filed ... in its most basic responsibility: public safety."

If the editorial writer had looked elsewhere in his paper that day, he would have seen that the failure of governmental authority is not confined to police protection of straphangers and pedestrians from muggers and punks. A meticulous investigation of New York City's Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Elliot M. Gross, by reporter Philip Shenon concluded that Gross had consistently covered up police abuses and had fudged autopsies of victims of police brutality.

Surely the official callousness described by Shenon in sickening detail is not limited to the New York City coroner's office. In urban areas and rural counties, government routinely fails to extend its protection to those who need it most--the victims of its own abusive policing, the castoffs of its inadequate welfare systems, the refuse of its bureaucratic arrogance. That victimized public is responding with another kind of vigilantism. It's usually called crime, but there is another way of putting it: those treated unequally by the law wrongly but inevitably take the law into their own hands.

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Title Annotation:those who the government fails to protect take the law into their own hands
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:editorial
Date:Feb 9, 1985
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