Fear of criminal charge stops citizens from crime intervention

Lucy Sky

Art Director

 

To protect and serve; that’s what we count on our law enforcement officers to do. But why is it common to face lawsuits and jail-time for helping them out when they’re too late to save someone’s life?

If you’re walking down the street and see someone in danger, you should be able to do whatever is in your physical and mental power to protect that victim without fear of legal action against you. Citizens should be honoured for their bravery the same way officers are, not thrown in a cage and shamed for it, as has happened to many.

The level of respect law enforcement workers or members of government receive for heroic actions makes sense; it means they are doing their job. Some citizens feel they have a responsibility to respect and protect each other but there’s fear instilled in our society that prevents us from doing so.

Even though police are fighting to protect people and to hold the line between right and wrong, it’s problematic that there hasn’t been any consideration towards creating laws that could make it less hazardous for a citizen to perform similar actions when proper enforcement is not present. In many cases, intervening to prevent an assault can even be considered a crime.

If it’s legal to citizen arrest, why can’t you citizen-protect? Who really walks around with a pair of handcuffs all day thinking to themselves “oh I’m going to witness a crime today?” That would be closer to vigilantism, not the level of bravery it takes to stop a crime in progress.

Moreover, you’re only allowed to stop someone and hold him or her under citizen’s arrest while you wait for an officer, much like a security guard – but what does that really do if they escape? It doesn’t do any justice, because they’re free, roaming the streets, looking for their next victim, all because it was a citizen that caught them rather than an officer.

The time it takes for an officer to respond to the call of a crime in progress could cost a life. If we were all able to stand up for our fellow citizens without fear of punishment, that life could be saved.

If a person was walking home from work one day and saw someone being brutally assaulted and took it upon themselves to break up the situation, they would be considered a vigilante and charged criminally for it, but if an officer was there at the right time, he would probably get a raise.

While it’s technically legal to intervene, to an extent, most people will not because they fear their actions might escalate to the point of a criminal charge.

As someone I used to know was walking home from work one day, he saw a woman in an alley being brutally assaulted and raped and couldn’t stop himself from stepping in. No one should ever have to stop themselves from stepping in in a situation like this. He acted on his instincts and went to the rescue of the woman in distress. There were two assailants and one of him, so naturally, he had to use more force. As a large man who was at the time also worried for his safety, he applied the amount of force he felt necessary and this resulted in the later deaths of the two men who were assaulting this innocent woman.

He’s still sitting in a jail cell to this day, separated from his two young children and wife, who’s now left alone to support their family. His life will never be the same – he’s now seen as a murderer, while any police officer would be considered a hero, and that’s just wrong.

It’s disturbing that this dispensation of justice seems so dependent on the status of the one who intervenes. When Parliament Hill sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers  shot Michael Zehaf-Bibeau down, as he ran towards the Parliament buildings wielding a gun, after murdering Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at his post in front of the war memorial in Ottawa, Vickers was hailed as a hero and subsequently named Canadian ambassador to Ireland. Of course, I have the utmost respect for what Vickers did and as an Ottawan was deeply sorrowed by the events of that day and will be forever grateful that no one else was harmed. But it begs the question: if I had been in front of the Parliament building that day and shot Zehaf-Bibeau, would I have been charged and maybe even gone to jail, rather than being honoured? If I shot down someone running at a group of citizens with a gun, would I be considered a vigilante and spend the rest of my life in prison?

Any person capable of saving a life should have the right to do so, whether they have a badge on their chest or not. That’s not to say that people should be roaming the streets fighting crime, but if you’re there at the right time, you should be able to protect your fellow citizen without a serious fear of legal action, no matter your status.

Where the line between right and wrong is drawn seems vague and conditional. It’s not right that someone is sitting in a cell right now for saving a woman from getting raped and possibly murdered, but he is, and that’s not right.

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