If we held a referendum on the death penalty tomorrow, we could well be executing rapists, murderers and child molesters by next week. This simple fact is both depressing, and an excellent argument against democracy.

Because logically, since we’re such a pro-capital punishment society, we obviously have immense optimism and offer unwavering support for our fair, efficient and near infallible judiciary, right? Right?

No, we don’t. At all. In fact, most of us think – quite understandably – that our judiciary is as corrupt as the criminals it processes, and wouldn’t trust a high court judge with a broken shoelace. But for some reason, we still want them to decide who lives and who dies. What are we, stupid? (Spoiler: yes).

This bat-shit crazy dichotomy gains perspective when you remember that despite the laws against physical assault, we proudly stand by our right to ritualistically beat the most defenceless and dependent members of our society simply because we gave birth to them, and they happen to piss us off sometimes. How is a child supposed to grow up to be an altruistic, peace-loving adult when they keep getting the snot klapped out of them by their role-models? (Spoiler: they don’t).

So when I hear tales of “community justice”, I don’t exactly feel the urge to pump my fist in the air and start singing Power to the People. Actually, I get a bit of a cold chill.

As I did this weekend, when a friend told me how he and some neighbours had kicked the crap out of a burglar recently. They heard noises from his neighbour’s house, and knowing the family was away, went over to investigate. (I should add here that this guy lives in a very community-orientated neighbourhood – nothing like the suburbs I grew up in, where the only time you communicated with the people next door was when you were suing them for something.)

Anyway, they caught the baddie red-handed, took turns drop-kicking him around the lawn for a bit, then hauled him off to the police station.

“But what if he wasn’t a burglar?” I asked. “What if he was a family friend or something, and was just there to feed the cat?”
My friend shrugged. “Well… He wasn’t.”

Fair enough. But what if he was? Given what we are as a species, I don’t trust people to make snap judgements – especially when we’re in groups and angry about something.

Like in this story, where an alleged rapist received the burglar treatment after being caught in the act. Brr…

Now don’t get me wrong. If I saw a rape in progress, my instinct would also be to pull out the gun I don’t have and empty it into the bastard’s chest. Six bangs for justice! (My imaginary gun is a revolver, because they’re cheaper.) 

But what if I was wrong? What if it wasn’t rape? What if they were playing some totally consensual rapey sex game and I just happened to be walking past? What if they were making a porno? And even if it was rape, what if there were extenuating circumstances? What extenuating circumstances, you may indignantly demand? Well, how the fuck should I know? I reply. I only just got here myself.

And so did you.

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