By Sandy . . . “Hero punches pedophile.” That’s the name of a campaign on GoFundMe, a campaign designed to raise money for the defense and as a “thank you” for Kevin Smith, a man who, in best vigilante style, leapt across the courtroom at the sentencing of Donnie Briggs in Medford, Oregon, who was being sentenced on a conviction of child pornography.
Mr. Smith proceeded to pummel Mr. Briggs in the face and continued until courtroom security pulled him off. Briggs’ injuries included broken bones and required hospitalization.
Mr. Smith’s two daughters were among those whom Mr. Briggs had surreptitiously photographed. One can sympathize with his feelings of outrage without condoning his own inappropriate, criminal behavior.
But most inappropriate of all is this campaign. It glorifies and promotes violent vigilantism. The campaign was created by one Jacob Elkin, a first-hand observer of Smith’s courtroom assault of Briggs and an obvious fan of vigilantism.
Smith’s actions do not make him a hero but rather a criminal who broke the law and used physical violence against another. It is totally inappropriate to allow him to benefit from his criminal violence. Furthermore, this campaign not only encourages vigilante activity but also enables and promotes public hatred and violence, as evidenced by the comments of the donors. Mr. Briggs has committed a crime which is being handled in the justice system. Mr. Smith committed a crime and should not be allowed to benefit from it.
Newspaper articles about the incident glorify Smith, furthering the legitimacy of vigilantism and furthering the perception that those who commit sexual crimes are beyond the pale of rights due those accused of any other category of crime. See here and here.
The appeal to stereotypes is rampant. The GoFundMe page features a huge image of Superman, fists at the ready, to further the “hero” image of Smith, and at least two media outlets, as well as the GoFundMe page, feature the word “pedophile” prominently in their headlines.
Once again, in matters of sexual crimes, we see reason thrown out the window in favor of sensationalism and the public’s apparently insatiable need for blood-letting.
This campaign exemplifies all that is wrong with our nation’s approach to dealing with sexual offending. Absolutely nothing connected with it is helpful in terms of understanding, treating, or preventing.
And Kevin Patrick Smith is no hero.
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.