What does it mean to be vigilant? One definition is the condition of being observant. Clearly in organizing a Neighborhood Watch, people are trained to survey their neighborhood observing and reporting things that are out of order or suspicious. Signs are posted in the neighborhood to give notice of the program’s existence.
What is a vigilante? The Spanish equivalent is a watchman or guard. But in English it means a person who considers it their own responsibility to uphold the law in their neighborhood.
Now our police officers have extensive training coupled with experience, even team work, to enable them to carry out properly the duties of law enforcement. Any who don’t learn to handle themselves properly are dismissed.
Vigilantes may feel passionate about seeing that the laws in their neighborhoods are enforced, many even carrying firearms in concealed locations, justifying this to themselves as necessary in order to protect themselves while out patrolling. But it would appear to be easy to go overboard.
The Neighborhood Watch program, a program uniformly endorsed by law enforcement agencies, prohibits its program participants from carrying weapons of any sort. And where police often must act to confront individuals who appear to be acting suspiciously, police do not want neighborhood watchmen to be armed or to confront anyone for any reason.
We want us all to be vigilant. But we ought not to want any of us to be armed vigilantes! And on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., it appears that an armed vigilante may have gone overboard and it cost a young man his life. Vigilant and vigilante, what a difference that little “e” makes!