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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Seattle Vigilantism Turns Deadly

Depiction of a group of vigilante "baldknobbers" from the 1919 movie "The Sheppard Of The Hills".
Baldknobbers were groups of vigilantes in Arkansas and Missouri who were responsible not only for attacking horse thieves, but also murdering their critics and their families, as well as several racially motivated lynchings in the mid to late late 1800's and early 1900's.

Last week I wrote a story about how the people of Seattle tend to support vigilantism and have a propensity to dispense "street justice" for a wide range of perceived wrongs and alleged crimes. That story was about an angry mob that brutally attacked a patron at a local nightclub after he was kicked out of the bar for allegedly smacking a female patron's butt. While the citizens of Seattle who responded to the story, as it was relayed in one local weekly paper's blog, with approval of the mob taking the law into their own hands and meting out a guilty verdict on the accused and their own punishment that included kicks, punches, homophobic epithets, and reportedly stripping the alleged butt-slapper before an ambulance arrived to take him away... I decried the act as an abrogation of the justice system and a simple matter of assault in the guise of vigilantism on the part of the drunken mob.

Of course, nobody was arrested and it seems that the police don't intend to investigate the case.

I also warned that such actions come dangerously close to a potential death sentence considering my own experience being the subject of just such a lynch-mob style beating at the hands of several white supremacists that went unpunished as well... even after it was discovered that mob had attacked and condemned an innocent person in their drunken pursuit of racially-tinged vigilante justice. I said it was only a matter of time before someone who took the law into their own hands would issue a death sentence as that angry mob intended to do to me with their shouts of "kill him, kill that mutt!" which encouraged the kicks to my head to continue relentlessly long after I had passed out from the blows.

Indeed, that's what happened a few days later when an altercation between three teenage girls and a 60 year old man turned into an act of deadly vigilantism. The various stories at least agree on these points. Last week James Paroline was watering a garden he planted in a traffic circle in the middle of a local road outside his house and had put traffic cones out in the street to prevent cars from running over his hose. Thee teenage girls asked Paroline to move the cones so they could continue but Paroline refused. The girls state that the police were called to convince Paroline to stop impeding traffic but the confrontation escalated when one of the girls attempted to move a traffic cone herself and was sprayed by Paroline.

At this point the stories get murky as residents report that one girl threw a bottle of water on Paroline and the girls insist that Paroline assaulted one of them. Irregardless, one of the girls went back home and told her sister's boyfriend, Brian Keith Brown, that Paroline had struck one of them. Brown, who had a a record of felony convictions, drove to the site where Paroline was apparently still arguing with the girls and punched him one time in the face while allegedly asking Paroline why he didn't pick on a man instead of picking on girls.

One punch was all it took to send Paroline to the ground where his head bounced off the pavement with, what residents describe as, a very audible pop. Brown fled the scene as the girls stayed behind and tended to Paroline with local residents. A day later Paroline was dead, never awakening from the coma he was put into by Brown's deadly blow.

Relatives and friends of Brown insist that he was merely trying to defend the girls after he was told that one of them was hit. But, as the reports state, Paroline offered no defense or aggressive move that would have justified Brown taking aggressive action towards Paroline... Simply put, Brown judged Paroline guilty of an alleged crime he didn't witness and struck a fatal blow as the sentence he passed down upon Paroline for his alleged crimes.

...however, videos taken by two local residents reportedly didn't show Paroline attack the girls and that, at worse, Paroline merely squirting the girls with his hose when they went to move the cones, although the son of one resident claims he did see one of the girls get slapped. Apparently Brown's attack, while probably not intended to kill, were based on a potentially false accusation and now cannot be appealed.

Brown has now been charged and arrested for second degree murder due to his act of irrevocable and mistaken vigilantism. He was wrong to think he was better than the justice system when he took the law into his own hand and used that hand to sentence Paroline to death... just as any other vigilante or police officer is wrong when they use more force than necessary to detain a person who has only been alleged to have committed a crime. It's all vigilantism just the same, only this time it was also an act that resulted in death, even if the severity of the sentence carried out by Brown was likely unintentional.

In response to the incident, local residents have been up in arms, insisting that the attack was racist given that Brown is African American and Paroline was white. Even the police are saying that "race will be a focus throughout this investigation". Residents also have been talking about forming their own neighborhood watch groups while citing stark evidence of racial divides within the community as a reason for the attack.

So it is that an act of vigilantism breeds more vigilantism and the same ages old racially motivated cries for vigilante justice just as it was with such groups gone by in the past. If you think that's far-fetched, Seattle residents in local blogs and news sites are calling for blood and demanding punishments such as Brown being tied to railroad tracks and cut in half by a passing train.

So Seattle, residents and police alike, still seems to support vigilantism and street justice... apparently, so long as it's a group of white people dealing out the judgments and summary punishments. After all, why go after a black guy who pursues vigilantism while refusing to go after entire gangs of white guys who do the same?


Anonymous said...

Please do all of us a favor and research your statements made about the "BaldKnobbers" and any other information that is put out.

your statement

"Baldknobbers were groups of vigilantes in Arkansas and Missouri who were responsible not only for attacking horse thieves, but also murdering their critics and their families, as well as several racially motivated lynchings in the mid to late late 1800's and early 1900's."

If more research had been done, you would have realized and found that the "Baldknobbers" were Northern fighters of the Civil War that, without sufficient law enforcement, banded together to protect their families, livestock, assests, and their way of life. It was not until after they publicly disbanded, willfully, that Southern fighters, those with racial motives, ran rampant using the history of a good orginization,as a cover and not as the original organization.

Although, I agree with your article, the general public should not take legal matters into their own hands, and that law enforcement agencies today, do not necessarilly take the right measures of action, you have given a group of people a bad image by referencing a movie.

Please remember that in this country, racism is an epidemic, but racism isn't just white on black, as so many have pin pointed. Racism is white on black, black on white,etc....

Together, as a country, things will get better, but first, all sides must have compassion and understanding for their brothers...

Packratt said...


Thank you for the comment, and while I agree that the Baldknobber groups started out with good intentions and likely did a good job defending their communities from criminals like cattle rustlers, which is what they were formed to do.

Eventually the unregulated and unchecked power they wielded as a group led to abuses like the leader of the Baldknobbers shooting a critic and his family, even though they didn't commit any crime other than questioning some of the group's motives and tactics.

From there the groups got out of control as they expanded and other vigilante groups took on the name "baldknobber" but used the guise of vigilantism to expand their own power. They ultimately had to be disbanded by the state and made outlaw because of those abuses.

The story parallels how urban gangs developed if you research their stories. Initially, gangs like "the crips" started as a response to neighborhood bullies and criminals. Groups of kids who were targeted by those people formed gangs but that quickly grew out of control as more and more groups of kids took on the name but changed the group's nature...

The victims of bullies and criminals eventually became that which they were formed to fight, as does any group that comes to power in response to being abused by power that doesn't have a check on the power that they end up inheriting. (yes, it's the old power corrupts paradigm)

It's an age-old story that played out the same way then as it still does today, it's the nature of vigilantism... and at some point, hopefully, people will learn the lesson all these similar stories throughout history seek to teach us about how vigilantism eventually turns those who band together to fight criminals outside of the law into criminals themselves.

Thanks again for your comment, I appreciate it.

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