The Contradictory Pleasures of Citizen Crime-Fighting
Vigilantism is often understood as a substitute for state authority. If that is the case, why does the South African state encourage citizen crime-fighting, given risks that patrollers might resort to illegal violence? This chapter shows that the state promotes citizen crime-fighting to combat feelings of disempowerment produced by the fear of crime. It does so by examining two moments in a community policing program in Sebokeng. The first was a public spectacle relaunching the program where government ministers exhorted citizens to “take charge” of crime while suggesting citizens may need to occasionally violate legal procedures to do so. The second was a night of patrolling with a community policing group where initial fidelity to legal procedures gave way to targeting the homes of specific alleged criminals. The chapter shows how patrollers sometimes experience their strongest feelings of agency as they violated the state’s procedural protections for suspects.
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