Vigilante Justice Proves To Be Unjust in Kensington

The principal reason to favor due process and the presumption of innocence over "swift and certain" vigilante justice is illustrated by two ugly displays of street justice in Pennsylvania. After the police identified Jose Carrasquillo as a "person of interest" in the repeated rape of an 11 year old girl, "justice-seeking" residents of Kensington began looking for him. Law enforcement officials were surprised and apparently pleased "when numerous Kensington residents offered to catch Carrasquillo themselves."

"Law-abiding citizens were out there with police officers. We even had chronic drug dealers coming up to us, wanting to see his picture. That tells me there is some code, even among the criminal element," [Capt. Daniel Castro] said.

Community support of police efforts to locate a suspected child molester should be encouraged, but people who don't carry a badge cross the line when they decide to dispense street justice rather than calling the police. Members of an angry mob, mistakenly believing they had found Carrasquillo, beat Michael Zenquis with bats and kicked him while he was on the ground before they finally called 911. [more ...]

"I kept yelling, I'm innocent, I didn't do anything, I don't know what's going on," Zenquis said. "They were just calling me, 'Rapist! You deserve to die!' They were saying, 'Kill him, kill him!', and it was just too much."

Police took Zenquis to the hospital and then took him to the police department where detectives realized they had the wrong guy. Zenquis was released with apologies.

Meanwhile, another angry mob recognized Carrasquillo and, when he tried to flee, beat him severely, inflicting head injuries that sent him to the hospital in critical condition. He stabilized quickly and was soon released from hospital care, but he has not yet been charged with the rape and it isn't clear that the evidence against him (despite his criminal past) is strong enough to prove his guilt.

Two members of the mob who first cornered Carrasquillo received reward money from the Fraternal Order of Police, whose president praised them for "stepping up to the plate." While reasonable minds might question whether law enforcement officials should reward vigilantes for administering street justice without the bother of a trial or proof of guilt, the FOP president said he had "no problem with how Carrasquillo was apprehended."

"There wasn't even a second thought [about giving the reward]," he said.

So vigilantes who manage to beat up the right guy -- who decide for themselves that he's guilty and deserves brutal punishment -- merit a reward? What about the vigilantes who get it wrong, like those who clobbered Zenquis? Should they be praised because their hearts were in the right place, despite the pain and suffering they caused an innocent man?

The due process rights that accompany a criminal trial help assure that the innocent aren't punished. Dispensing with those rights in favor of summary justice dispensed by an angry crowd places the innocent at risk. Zenquis cannot appeal from the mob's verdict; he's lucky just to be alive.

A community's anger about the brutal and repeated rape of a child is understandable and justified, but it is nonsensical to claim that "the community’s brand of justice is both appropriate and necessary" because the vigilantes were entitled to send a message about rape. What message did the community send when the mob attacked Michael Zenquis? What will the community's message mean if Carrasquillo turns out to be innocent? And if mob violence is justified because an angry comnmunity wanted to send a measage, why isn't Scott Roeder's alleged vigilante killing of Dr. George Tiller equally justified? Does the righteousness of vigilante justice depend upon whether we agree with the message the vigilante wants to send?

The reality is that George Tiller's killer, presumably a member of the furthest fringe of the anti-abortion movement, disregarded the rule of law. ... But so too did the mob of Kensington residents bent on revenge.

None of the mob members who beat Carrasquillo will be charged with a crime. The vigilantes who battered Zenquis received no reward, but based on local law enforcement's sympathy for the anger that pervaded the community after they named Carrasquillo a "person of interest," it seems unlikely that anyone will be prosecuted for the unprovoked attack on Zenquis. What message do those decisions send?

If a message needs to be sent in Kensington, it is this: every person, even a "person of interest" who may have committed a vile crime, is entitled to the protection of the law. Punishment does not precede a trial; guilt is not determined by vigilantes; due process is not a technicality that stands in the way of justice. Due process is justice. The angry citizens of Kensington need to get that message, as do the law enforcement officials who praise vigilantes.

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    your comparison is ill advised. (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by cpinva on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 01:28:31 AM EST
    dr. tiller committed no illegal acts, nor had he been accused of such, prior to his assassination. his murder was terrorism, pure and simple, just not committed by muslims. makes all the difference, apparently.

    there was an illegal act allegedly committed in PA, the repeated rape of a young girl, by someone. the vigilanty acts by the frenzied mob were clearly illegal, but based on the commission of another illegal act.

    lenin purportedly stated that "the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize.", and therein lies the difference between dr. tiller's assassin, and the mob in PA.

    is it even legal for the FOP to be offering rewards in cases like this, or at all?

    Depends on your perspective. (none / 0) (#4)
    by TChris on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 07:54:47 AM EST
    Roeder and other anti-abortion activists spent years accusing Dr. Tiller of being a serial killer and mass murderer.  The Kensington mobs believed Carrasquillo to be guilty of molesting a child even though he had been identified only as a "person of interest" and hadn't been charged, tried, or convicted.  In each case, from the vigilante's perspective, violent acts were justified because the victim had it coming.  From our perspective, the spontaneous beating of a potential child molester is easier to justify than the murder of an abortion doctor, but anti-abortion vigilantes don't share that point of view.  Hence the question:  "Does the righteousness of vigilante justice depend upon whether we agree with the message the vigilante wants to send?"

    Agree with cpinva (none / 0) (#7)
    by Lora on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 10:12:18 AM EST
    Apples and oranges.  An assassin pumped up by years of rhetoric going after an individual who committed legal acts can not appropriately be compared to a spontaneous mob delivering their version of justice to an alleged egregious lawbreaker.

    I also take issue with your use of the term "child molester."  While brutal rape may technically fall under the broad category of "child molestation," its connotations are much less violent.  "Child rapist" seems much more appropriate under the circumstances.

    To be clear, I am appalled and in no way condone the vigilante misjustice against both men, and also the assassination of Dr. Tiller.


    Oh gimme a break. (none / 0) (#14)
    by TChris on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 02:21:58 PM EST
    I am really p*ssing people off today.  Look, the post uses the word "rape" four times.  I didn't realize the PC police would admonish me for varying my language in the comment.  Complaining that "molest" connotes a less violent act than "rape" makes sense only if you didn't read the original post.  The sentence that begins "a community's anger about the brutal and repeated rape of a child is understandable and justified" should have made my feeling about this crime clear.  Since the post is about the acts of vigilantism and not the crime itself, I don't see the value of nit-picking my use of a different, "technically" accurate word in my comment

    You missed my point (none / 0) (#21)
    by Lora on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 10:33:23 PM EST
    Which seems worse: an angry mob beating up a "suspected child molester" (a phrase you used BOTH in your original post AND in your comments, btw), or an angry mob beating up a "suspected child rapist?"

    I never doubted your feelings about the crime.

    I'm just saying, call it like it is.  No need to change the wording to highlight the brutality of the vigilante mob.

    And I was not pissed.  I took "issue," not "umbrage."  To me, words and their usage matter a great deal.


    Connect the dots (none / 0) (#9)
    by 1980Ford on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 11:47:42 AM EST
    Bush merely adopted the "tough on crime" rhetoric and used "the war on terror." Same arguments, different targets. He was shocked to learn so many were not buying it. We not? They do domestically? This same world view is like an onion, from the community, to the state, to the nation and Bush used it internationally. This case is a community example. The Tiller case is a national example. Gitmo is an international example. They all rest on the same foundation.

    Carolyn B. Ramsey ties it all together in In the Sweat Box: A Historical Perspective on the Detention of Material Witnesses.

    "In telling such a story, this Essay seeks, not to defend the Justice Department, but to suggest that intense scholarly focus on September 11 as a watershed in the history of criminal procedure obscures ways in which the gradual consolidation of governmental power over more than a century has
    fostered an increasingly coercive and secretive relationship between the individual and the police."

    The question here is not if the mob intended terrorism, but if the FOP did or does to any degree.


    The mayor's a Dem, as is the police chief. (none / 0) (#10)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 12:33:51 PM EST
    Looking at the video the odds are clearly in favor of the vigilantes being Dems.

    It is not Dem v Con (none / 0) (#12)
    by 1980Ford on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 01:59:39 PM EST
    It is law enforcement on a pedestal v due process.

    Dems are not soft on crime nowadays and often criticize due process as much as the Cons do. The Cons hijacked the victims' rights movement for exactly this reason. It was a brilliant and effective move that won. The Cons' real objection to Bush was that people would start questioning the government's unlimited power after all those decades of work. Many People still do not recognize it on the domestic front but are starting to.


    I agree, it's not D v R (none / 0) (#13)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 02:16:58 PM EST
    so why did you drag Bush into it with your very first sentence?

    fwiw, I think the vigilante's response is due to their frustration at these types of criminals getting off easy due to the Dem's policies over the years.

    I think your blaming it on the cons is way off base.


    And your evidence (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by TChris on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 02:25:45 PM EST
    that "these types of criminals" are "getting off easy," much less that "Dem's policies over the years" have caused child molesters (excuse me, child rapists) to "get off easy," is exactly what?

    About the same evidence that 1980Ford has (1.00 / 0) (#18)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 02:57:24 PM EST
    to back his claims. Which means nothing, especially if you don't want to accept the underlying premise in the first place.

    Just a buncha people flapping their jaws and bloviating their opinions.

    Buncha punkz in the hood, enabled by the (Dem, but who's counting) authorities, got all jacked up into a mob.

    Mob anger sounds like a base human instinct to me, deplorable as it is.

    I wouldn't blame Clinton for the mobs that burned LA and crushed Reggie Denny's skull with a brick after the Rodney King trial, though a good case could probably be made for it.

    But I know, I know, anything "bad" is cuz of Bush and the GOP.

    Kevin McElroy, Bobbie Jo Stinnett, etc., all due to Bush. Or maybe it was Reagan. Ah, who cares, all due to R's anyway...


    As if the cons (none / 0) (#16)
    by jondee on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 02:32:14 PM EST
    since forever hadnt been blustering and grandstanding and attempting to manufacture "frustration" over the Dems alleged "soft-on-crime" propensities for years.

    I think he's pretty on target.


    Why mention Bush? (none / 0) (#17)
    by 1980Ford on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 02:35:55 PM EST
    Because he took it too far too fast. It is not his politics that matters, but his policies. Government could do no wrong no matter the policy. Compare the current Volokh post:

    Judicial "Activism" Isn't the Issue:

    Many conservatives who think of themselves as proponents of limited government would be surprised to discover that conservative judges begin their constitutional analyses in almost every context by placing a thumb firmly on the government side of the scale. It's called "judicial deference." Many liberals, who take pride in being "empathetic," would be surprised to learn that liberal judges also subscribe to judicial deference.

    The practical result is that judges of both persuasions almost never enforce any constitutional limit on the power of government to regulate property and the economy. Given that the vast majority of law concerns these two areas, the real crisis in constitutional law is not judicial "activism" but judicial passivism.

    Bush was a wake up call. The Dems haven't figured out yet how much like Bush they are at times.

    And "getting off easy" is a strawman. There is no way, no how, whoever is guilty is going to get off easy. Their contempt may have some justification, but it was not because they thought he might get off easy.


    How can the police get away with not filing charge (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by caseyOR on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 01:38:42 AM EST
    Is there no avenue for justice for the men who were beaten? How can this happen? Surely the U.S. attorney will be stepping in to file charges in civil rights violations. Right? Am I right here?

    It's Philadelphia. (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by scribe on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 08:38:54 AM EST
    Kensington is and for a long time has been one of the supposedly "rougher" neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

    This is what Philadelphia people did to a Tampa Bay fan after the Phils won the World Series last year.

    There was a back and forth about this case on this site last week, before it came out an innocent had been beaten, too.  Philadelphia prides itself on a brand of "toughness" which engenders this kind of thuggery.  George Bush and his "bring 'em on" speech was a big hit there - fit their attitude perfectly.

    Since Mayor Nutter didn't condemn the thuggery, you can expect more of it.


    Small town thinking. (none / 0) (#6)
    by Fabian on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 09:35:18 AM EST
    aka "community standards" or perhaps "mob rules".

    Makes me wonder about the advisability of using "community standards" at all.  A jury - yes.  A violent mob - no.


    Thanks (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Daniel Millstone on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 05:52:24 AM EST
    This is an well-written, well thought-out essay.

    what is the criminal past? (1.00 / 0) (#19)
    by diogenes on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 03:32:11 PM EST
    Could you say exactly what Carrasquilo's criminal past was, or would it, shall we say, prejudice the jury?

    If you follow the links (5.00 / 0) (#20)
    by TChris on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 04:25:02 PM EST
    in the post you can find that information.  It isn't particularly relevant to the topic of vigilantism, but I mentioned it to placate our "tough on crime" readers (i.e,, diogenes and a few others) who, I suspected, would focus on the character of the accused rapist rather than the topic of the post.

    criminal past (none / 0) (#22)
    by diogenes on Tue Jun 09, 2009 at 10:14:46 PM EST
    This doesn't excuse the vigilantism but might explain the police putting a reward up for Carrasquillo's pickup if they felt that there was a risk of another sexual assault occurring.  Police rewards should be paid if the person is brought to the police; if you want to charge the recipient of the reward with a crime then go ahead.
    Whether a jury of their peers would unanimously convict any of the mob members is another matter for those who are enamored of jury trials to consider.  

    Kensington (none / 0) (#8)
    by MaryGM on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 10:51:41 AM EST
    I'm a Philadelphian, and to call Kensington "rough" is an understatement.  Police don't like to go there, so they rarely do.  Thus, the people of that neighborhood - and I know a few being an urban schoolteacher - have a very tenuous relationship with law enforcement.  I was extremely disappointed in Mayor Michael Nutter for not condemning these crimes.  As the city's supposed leader, he does a huge disservice to all Philadelphians for endorsing vigilantism.

    no charges???? (none / 0) (#11)
    by txpublicdefender on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 01:04:21 PM EST
    How in the world can the authorities get away with not filing charges in these cases?  Two people were viciously beaten, almost to death, and the people who did it walk away with no charges?  That is ridiculous.  What if they had been killed?  Would they still not file charges?

    I am outraged beyond belief.

    If the local authorities refuse to file charges, I would hope that the federal authorities would step in.  I'm not sure what the federal grounds might be, but, this type of vigilante mob violence is unacceptable.

    Don't even get me started on the Fraternal Order of Police giving monetary rewards to these people!  What is wrong with these people?