Just say `no' to vigilantism

Geckles: State's attorney must act quickly in case of Baltimore County businessmen who shot burglars.

April 10, 2001

FROM JURIES who acquit cop killers to businessmen who lie in wait for burglars -- to those who applaud these actions -- Baltimore-area citizens have shown an unhealthy willingness recently to take the law into their own hands.

That response to crime strikes some as reasonable, overdue and totally justifiable. And, of course, the impulse to deputize oneself has a storied history in this country.

But long ago, a strong consensus held that other means of protection would be needed to avoid collapsing into a pit of unrestrained violence.

Our society rests on a foundation of laws -- flawed as it may sometimes be. We give authority to the police and the courts. We do not license anyone else to act as judge and jury -- or to impose the death penalty as some allege occurred in a recent Baltimore County case.

Self defense, yes. Lying in wait to shoot, no.

Brothers Matthew and Dominic Geckle, who armed themselves after they were repeatedly burglarized, now face a nightmarish siege of court action -- indictment, perhaps, and reportedly some regret about the taking of a life.

The circumstances of the shooting in Glyndon won't be fully known until police and prosecutors complete their investigation.

In a case such as this, the requirement for quick action by law enforcement agencies cannot be overstated. Faith in the system demands clear explanation of what happened and what the law requires.

In the meantime, no one should make these two shooters into role models. A shooting of this sort simply cannot be condoned -- on practical if not moral grounds.

Sandra A. O'Connor, the tough and respected Baltimore County prosecutor, must demonstrate that the law will be enforced as written. Everyone -- potential victims and perpetrators alike -- must know that the law plays no favorites.

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