Taking the Law into Our Own Hands
by Ted Miller
(originally published in Tumbleweird January 2021)
On November 1, 2021, the Spokane Police Department published a statement that a murder suspect had been arrested after the decomposing body of a 19-year-old man had been found in the trunk of a car.
News reports gave a strong implication that the murder was somehow justified, but I wanted to read the original police post. Here are some excerpts:
On 10-22-21 SPD patrol officers responded to [a report of] an abandoned vehicle with a foul odor emanating from it. … SPD officers verified human remains were contained within the vehicle.
The victim was identified as a 19-year-old male, and on 10-29-21, 60-year-old John Eisenman was arrested for 1stdegree murder.
In October 2020 Eisenman learned his juvenile daughter was allegedly sold to a sex-trafficking organization in the Seattle area. Eisenman obtained information his daughter’s boyfriend (the deceased) may have been the one responsible for her sale.
In November 2020, Eisenman [learned where the victim would be and] abducted the victim, tying him up and placing him in the trunk of a vehicle. Eisenman subsequently assaulted the victim by hitting him in the head with a cinder block and then stabbed him repeatedly, causing his death. Eisenman drove the vehicle to a remote area … and abandoned the car with the body still inside. The vehicle … was moved in October 2021 … with the body still in the trunk. Individuals … rummaging through the car … made the gruesome discovery.
This story is disturbing on so many levels. I can only imagine how I would feel if I thought my daughter had been abducted and trafficked. The vast majority of the several thousand comments on that SPD post praised the dad and called him a hero. There were calls to set up a GoFundMe to pay legal fees, which quickly raised over $20,000. “He did a public service,” said one. “Justifiable homicide,” said another. Many ‘volunteered’ to serve on his jury, anxious to acquit.
But there was no evidence that the victim was actually guilty of what the father suspected.
One commenter tried to bring reason into the conversation. Acknowledging the father’s rage, the commenter then said, “But it’s not his responsibility to take it upon himself to kill someone that hasn’t been accused of a crime much less arrested and charged. Vigilantism isn’t what a civil society is built upon.”
There were hundreds of angry replies to that comment, many reiterating that the father was a hero and that they would have done the same thing. But I noticed many of the comments also reflected a deep distrust of our justice system. “We no longer live in a civil society,” said one. “We live in the ruins of one. If you don't secure justice, no one will.”
The idea behind these comments was that the woke liberals, ineffective District Attorneys, corrupt judges, and incompetent police would never hold the 19-year-old boyfriend accountable for what the father accused him of committing. So, obviously, the boy deserved to be hunted down and murdered.
The United States has a long history of vigilantism. Before there were organized police departments, private citizens and legally deputized posses made citizen arrests. Slave patrols and lynch mobs upheld white supremacy, capturing and lynching Black people for so much as a whisper of an offense against a white person. Today, so called ‘stand your ground’ laws support the idea of vigilantism, giving private citizens — with no training on rules regarding the use of deadly force — legal authority to shoot first and ask questions later.
Popular culture celebrates vigilantism. Superheroes like Batman, serial killers like Dexter, and characters like Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver) are considered heroes with the idea that the system won’t hold the bad guys accountable, and that extra-judiciary means are required to get justice.
Our justice system is indeed flawed. Guilty people do sometimes get away with murder, but innocent people are also convicted of crimes they didn’t commit, sentenced to years in prison, and in some cases executed before they can prove their innocence. The system isn’t perfect, but at least it has checks and balances to try to get it right.
William Blackstone, an English jurist in the 18th century, said: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” This idea of innocence until proven guilty is at the foundation of our legal system. The Constitution, particularly the fourth and fifth amendments, give us the rights that uphold this principle.
A vigilante mob mentality undermines those rights and every principle of justice we have.
As I was preparing this column, I looked to see if there had been any follow-up to the Spokane arrest of the man who murdered his daughter’s boyfriend. I was curious whether any evidence of the boyfriend’s alleged sex trafficking had been found.
The Spokesman Review reported that “investigators say they have no ‘independent and verifiable facts’ that a 20-year-old man found dead in a car trunk in October had sex trafficked his girlfriend as her father, the confessed killer, has claimed. Furthermore, police allege John Eisenman, 60, told investigators he was high on methamphetamine when he killed Andrew Sorensen last year.” *
Andrew Sorensen, a young man just out of high school, was murdered by a vigilante for a crime that hadn’t even been committed. And yet thousands of people across the country were ready to give his murderer a medal, pay for his legal fees, and acquit him of any crime. Because they are so cynical about our judicial system, they are ready to throw away 250 years of legal precedent designed to prevent uninformed citizens from wrongfully killing an innocent man.
This breakdown in the faith in our legal and judicial system is frightening. We are headed to anarchy and vigilante mobs ‘taking the law into their own hands’ — using violence and violating the constitutional rights of fellow citizens to enact their own misguided vision of ‘justice’. We’ve seen it recently in Kenosha, WI; Brunswick, GA; the U.S. Capitol Building; and right here in the Tri-Cities.
When a society no longer trusts that the law will be upheld, the laws no longer have any meaning.
I don’t want to live in a lawless society. Do you?
* The Spokesman Review, Dec. 2, 2021, “Police: No Evidence that man killed by girlfriend’s father was in involved in sex trafficking; suspect high on meth.”