Hannah is a seventh-year Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Politics. Her research examines vigilante violence, policing, and justice attitudes in contexts of high crime and weak rule of law, with a focus on Latin America. Her collaborative work on these topics includes in-depth qualitative interviews, a lab-in-the-field experiment, and an original dataset on contemporary lynchings in Mexico. She also co-coordinates the Democratic Erosion consortium with Professor Rob Blair, which spans over 50 universities on multiple continents and combines research, teaching and civic engagement related to democratic backsliding and resilience. She earned a BA in Romance Languages & Literatures and Studies of Women, Gender, & Sexuality from Harvard College, magna cum laude.
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Making or Breaking the Rule of Law? Attitudes Toward Vigilante Crime Control in Mexico
In contexts of criminal wars, ordinary citizens often must choose between seeking help from weak or predatory security institutions and pursuing justice on their own. When do citizens prefer vigilante responses to crime? And when are they willing to seek formal, state-administered justice? First, drawing on original qualitative data from 48 focus groups carried out in the state of Michoacán, Mexico, I identify an understudied mode of vigilantism: extralegal citizen’s arrests that usurp key police functions and use physical force against alleged perpetrators while also seeking state intervention to control crime. I call this mode of behavior “vigilante-state cooperation” where citizens use extralegal force in an attempt to capture alleged criminals as well as engage the police in responding to crime, rather than replace state authority entirely. Second, based on experimental evidence from a nationwide survey vignette, I find that the average citizen perceives vigilante-state cooperation as relatively fair and effective at addressing crime. In contrast, more extreme forms of vigilantism such as lynching and beating are perceived to be less fair and effective relative to both vigilante-state cooperation and just calling the police. The mixed-methods analysis reveals a persistent demand for legal, state-provided security alongside a sense that citizens often must combine legal behavior with vigilantism to achieve security, and even force state authorities into action. This paper contributes to our understanding of vigilantism, policing, and the rule of law by demonstrating how attitudes and behavior with generally deep-rooted commitments to legality respond to weak or predatory institutional environments.