After an 18-year-old boy was beaten to death by a lynch mob in the city of Rosario just 300 km northwest of Buenos Aires, the story nearly repeated itself in the neighborhood of Palermo a few days later, when a man accused of pickpocketing was kicked numerous times by an angry mob that attempted to take justice into their own hands.

The following 10-second video has been making the rounds on social networks and it shows a horrifying trend that many support, since they consider the legal system has abandoned them. How did it get to this? What the hell is happening to us?

 

 

In a span of just one week, more than five people have been attacked by “vigilante” groups in the streets of Argentine cities, leaving many wondering if we have regressed to the 18th century, while others champion this new form of “popular justice” that emerged from a lack of trust in the government’s ability to keep us safe.

Even today, local actor Gerardo Romano made the headlines after he apparently stopped an angry mob from attacking a pickpocketer that got caught in Palermo after robbing a tourist. People seem to be on edge.

As with everything lately, this also has divided society into two irreconcilable factions: those who say that people have to defend themselves from criminals because the Government is not doing so, and those who say that nothing justifies the barbaric act of beating someone to death. Forget about the right to a fair trial. The angry mob is judge, jury and executioner.

At a news conference on Tuesday, the City’s Minister of Justice and Security Guillermo Montenegro responded to Chief Cabinet Jorge Capitanich’s statement about the recent lynchings, describing the claim that lynchings are a necessary response to an “absent state” and “an absurd oversimplification.”

“We are the state, and we are responsible,” Montenegro said. “Let’s assume responsibility for finding a solution.” Montenegro also expressed his opinion on Twitter.

 

Mayor Mauricio Macri, has also condemned the lynching, while others are already saying that “a basic social contract has been broken.”

Last Friday the discussion exploded on Twitter after the minute-to-minute coverage of the spontaneous lynching that shook the neighborhood of Palermo, provided by local author and reporter Diego Grillo Trubba on his Twitter account. While walking towards his apartment, he ran into an angry mob at the corner of Charcas and Coronel Díaz. A thief had been caught, and while the locals waited for the police to arrive, they kept kicking the suspect in the head.

 

He observed that “it was like watching animals. There was nothing human left in their gestures.”

“What I saw there, live, and no one told me anything, is that we are inches away from killing each other,” he tweeted.

 

Latin America is no stranger to the terrifying trends that have caused an emotional stir over the last few days, and according to a 2013 report by the Procurador de los Derechos Humanos de Guatemala, lynchings cases have increased by 26.36% from 2012 to 2013. So it looks like this isn’t just a trend in Argentina.

No Cuenten Conmigo campaign banner, courtesy of Asociación Pensamiento Penal.
No Cuenten Conmigo campaign banner, courtesy of Asociación Pensamiento Penal.

While the number of lynchings here has reached a total of six known cases in the last few days, the conversation about whether or not taking matters into your own hands can be justified is speaking volumes through the #NOCUENTENCONMIGO (“Don’t count on me”) campaign that began this week in an effort to raise awareness against the recent lynching crimes.

The campaign has collected more than 2000 signatures since its Monday launch and was inspired by a recent article in Pagina 12, “No Cuenten Conmigo,” by Javier Núñez.

“Don’t count on me to disguise the brutality and the cowardliness of 80 men beating a small defenseless kid until death through euphemism,” he says. “Beating someone to death who has stolen a purse is a disregard for the lives of others so reprehensible as the one who kills to steal.”

While the expression linchar (in Spanish, to lynch) does not have the same racial connotations it has in places like the United States – here it means someone being attacked or killed by an angry mob – that doesn’t make this kind of lynching any less horrifying. The same people who justify lynching by referencing the state’s inability to keep us safe are perpetuating that very same insecurity themselves in suggesting that just as the state will not punish petty thieves, it will also be unable or unwilling to punish Argentines who beat their fellow citizens to a pulp in broad daylight on the streets. We should expect more from the state, but we should also hold ourselves to a higher moral standard than that which is being exhibited here.

Yes, there is power in numbers, but while there is a romantic appeal in taking justice into our own hands, this kind of justice does not equate to taking a thief off of the streets or deterring future criminals. When a people’s “best” response to crime is violent and in some cases causes death, we know that we have all become a part of a problem much bigger than petty crime.