A Peruvian Facebook page encouraging citizens to “Catch Your Thief” has attracted a large amount of attention, as people are watching vigilantes catch their local wrongdoers.
In Peru, the page is known as “Chapa Tu Choro”. Participants post videos of themselves capturing criminals and then proceeding to punish the bad guys in whatever way they see fit.
A large number of these punishments are extremely brutal and graphic in nature, while others are humiliating. One woman accused of stealing was stripped naked and forced to carry a sign that read “I’m a thief”.
Many citizens see this as a way of working around their local police forces, which are known for being corrupt.
However, this vigilantism has led to some suspected criminals being unofficially punished by citizens when they were in fact innocent. One such case involved a man who was suspected of robbery being beaten. It was later revealed that he had nothing to do with the crime.
But sometimes the outcome is more serious. Since the campaign was launched last August, three men have been killed. Two suspected murderers were burnt to death, and a 17 year old was shot after he was accused of stealing a cell phone.
The Facebook page was launched after Peruvian Journalist Cecilia García and her neighbors captured a local thief. They turned the criminal over to a local police agency, and he walked free after just 30 minutes. García was greatly offended, and she started encouraging people to take justice into their own hands rather than allowing proper authorities to hand out extremely lax punishments. Many people support García and her efforts.
Resident of a crime-filled neighborhood in Peru’s capital city of Lima, Holler Vilchez said, “There were so many muggings, residents started to take justice into their own hands. The police never came when we most needed them, they would say they didn’t have a car, or didn’t have enough fuel, or would arrive an hour later. So we catch our criminal and punish him ourselves.”
Vilchez insisted that his group of neighborhood patrollers is not messing around. He produced photographs showing how far his team has gone.
“Here we hang criminals, drug addicts and rapists. We will burn them alive,” he said.
Now, officials are acknowledging that the program has gone too far. Interior minister José Luís Pérez Guadalupe has stressed to vigilantes that it’s okay to “catch your thief”, but you must turn them over to the police instead of punishing the wrongdoer on your own.
Guadalupe said, “If they want to take justice into their own hands, the country’s justice system must also judge them.”
However, Peruvians do not trust their local police to deliver that justice. A recent poll of residents of Lima determined that 55% of residents do not have trust in the local police, while 79% do not have faith in the judiciary. Additionally, 72% of citizens support the “Catch Your Thief” program.
While the program originally had good intentions, it has since gotten out of hand. Thanks to the corruption of police officers in Peru, local citizens have taken matters into their own hands, and they have taken things too far.