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A vigilante is someone who illegally punishes an alleged lawbreaker, or participates in a group which metes out extralegal punishment to an alleged lawbreaker.[1]

Members of neighborhood watch programs and others who use legal means of bringing people to justice are not considered vigilantes. For example, in 1979 Curtis Sliwa founded the Guardian Angels in New York City, a recognized crime fighting organization that now has chapters in many other cities.



Spanish for watchman, guard, from vigilante vigilant, from Latin vigilant-, vigilans .[2]

Note that the term vigilanties is a derivative of vigilante, not of vigilant or vigilance. The term vigilante was introduced into English from the northeast United States. Vigilantism is generally frowned upon by official agencies (who would otherwise encourage vigilance on the part of citizens), especially when it gives way to criminal behavior on the part of the vigilante.

Vigilante behavior

"Vigilante justice" is sometimes spurred on by the perception that criminal punishment is either nonexistent or insufficient for the crime. Those who believe this see their governments as ineffective in enforcing the law; thus, such individuals fulfill the like-minded wishes of the community. In other instances, a person may choose a role of vigilante as a result of personal experience as opposed to a social demand.

Persons seen as "escaping from the law" or "above the law" are sometimes the targets of vigilantism.[3] It may target persons or organizations involved in illegal activities in general or it may be aimed against a specific group or type of activity, e.g. police corruption. Other times, governmental corruption is the prime target of vigilante freedom fighters.

Vigilante behavior may differ in degree of violence. In some cases vigilantes may assault targets verbally, physically attack them or vandalize their property. Anyone who defies the law to further justice is a vigilante, and thus violence is not a necessary criterion. On the more extreme end of the scale, groups such as People Against Gangsterism And Drugs, (PAGAD), have resorted to tactics that have had them blacklisted as terrorist organisations.

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