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Vigilante Injustice

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The Monarch: He threw me in jail. Literally. Threw me right into the yard at the state prison. Then he shouts up to the warden, "Looks like this one won't be causing any more trouble!" And he flies off with a gay little salute.
Dr. Mrs. The Monarch: Oh my god.
The Monarch: Apparently nobody ever told him what due process was.

This trope is designed to question the nobility of vigilantism and questions if a vigilante is actually in the right to dispense justice without due process. As most of these vigilantes are untrained and undisciplined civilians who believe they know better than the justice system, often escalating crimes and doing more harm than good.

Vigilantism always comes with the question "who will enforce the law onto those who enforce the law?" Vigilantes are abetted by the audience because they have the benefit of knowing who's the real villain or who is the lesser of two evils, when in reality, vigilantes who use coercive force to harass and intimidate suspects are no better than the criminals they arrest or otherwise punish because it hardly negates the evils they commit in the name of justice note .

The most common consequence of vigilantism involves the unlawful execution of an innocent person, whose execution was either racially motivated, killed as collateral damage, or the crime was deemed so severe by vigilantes that it warranted the death penalty note . Causing a Miscarriage of Justice and an impactful lesson on why police officers require training and are both legally and morally obligated to have an unbiased approach to their investigations. It also creates the darkest setting for a Prejudice Aesop as the target of a vigilante is often a victim of a hate crime.

A vigilante doesn't always have to be a civilian who fights crimes without legal sanctions, it's people who are fighting any kind of injustice (ranging from actual crimes to minor indiscretions). For example, the acts of a social justice warrior can be classed as vigilante injustice when they dox suspects and enable extrajudicial punishment or retribution.

In the superhero genre, the Super Registration Act is either a compromise or a punishment for when super-powered vigilantes escalate a problem rather than fix it. This trope is often accompanied by the Asshole Victim and Who Murdered the Asshole as it makes the audience question whether or not the victim deserves such a harsh punishment.

It can also go with Revenge Is Not Justice and Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse because a character can call out the vigilante for having these excuses for murdering people. See also Impersonating an Officer when a character tries to pass themselves off as actual law enforcement.

Compare Cops Need the Vigilante, where vigilantes are seen as a better alternative to cops. If the vigilante justifies the collateral damage as necessary, it may cross over with Rationalizing the Overkill. Not to be confused with Obstructive Vigilantism where the vigilante misleads the cops in order to take the law into their own hands.

No Real Life Examples, Please! As this trope has a long, long history with lynching, witch hunts, hate crimes, and racial inequality. To avoid a Flame War, entries must be in-universe only.

Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Villain Protagonist of Death Note, Light Yagami, gets ahold of the titular artifact and decides to use it to kill criminals. While initially he targets genuine scumbags, he starts getting Drunk with Power and killing a lot more people, building himself up as the "God of the new world" and soon trying to Take Over the World and kill anyone who doesn't fit his extremely high standards. The entire world is soon in fear of his power, and the story makes a point to show how cruel Light has become, and how his vigilantism has negatively impacted society as a whole.
  • Moriarty the Patriot
    • The series is a Perspective Flip adaptation of Sherlock Holmes which portrays a Well-Intentioned Extremist version of Professor Moriarty. Moriarty knows the murder he's committing of monstrous nobles in hopes of bringing equality to the British Empire is wrong and openly says it's not justice but still seems to view it as a necessity he's committed to for too long to abandon. The series actually has him survive The Final Problem arc in which he dies in the original canon so he is forced to find a proper way to atone for everything he's done and find a new way to commit to justice.
    • Billy's choice to hand McGinty over to the law instead of killing him himself extrajudicially is portrayed as not truly taking harmful revenge and instead as the proper course of action.
  • My Hero Academia:
    • After his brother Tensei was crippled by the "Hero Killer" Stain, Iida takes matters into his own hands and resolves to strike down Stain even if it means going outside of the law forbidding the use of Quirks to subdue villains without a license. But Stain himself calls out Iida for this, pointing out that Iida is so fixated on the idea of revenge against him that he completely ignored the injured and helpless hero Stain was busy attacking. In addition, Iida's actions forced Midoriya and Todoroki to come to his aid to save his life, making them break the law and nearly getting all three of them expelled from U.A. for engaging in vigilantism.
    • The disastrous results of the Paranormal Liberation War, along with the massive breakout of villains from multiple prison facilities immediately after, leads to a severe drop in public opinion of heroes and the entire country falling to anarchy and chaos as massive numbers of villains start running riot. In response to the chaos, mobs of civilians start acting as vigilantes by arming themselves with support items and fighting back in self-defense. Having lost faith in the heroes, these mobs now believe that only they can protect themselves from the rogue villains. However, in their crusade to defend themselves, they soon begin attacking anyone who looks even remotely threatening. They especially start targeting people that have Mutant Quirks due to their animalistic appearances, despite most being innocent civilians who are simply fleeing and trying to find shelter from the chaos. These mobs also cause enormous property/collateral damage due to their reckless Quirk usage, while also being wholly unprepared to handle the more hardened villains due to the cheapness of their equipment, as well as their lack of formal training. Not helping is the fact that whenever any heroes try to help, the vigilante mobs shun them out of contempt due to the hate/distrust that society now has for heroes.
    • The spinoff, My Hero Academia: Vigilantes takes a softer stance on this trope. The protagonist, Koichi, primarily does public service as like picking up trash and giving people directions because he enjoys doing it. But using his Quirk to do so is technically breaking the law against public, unsanctioned Quirk use, but his actions are so harmless that he usually gets a slap on the wrist and a scolding at worst. But he begins increasingly running afoul of law as he gets into much more dangerous situations with Knuckleduster and Pop Step, with others pointing out that he's not trained to handle dangerous situations and risks making himself a casualty with his actions. While Koichi's actions ultimately help more than harm, he becomes the target of several villains and needs to be bailed out repeatedly by trained heroes.
  • Tiger & Bunny has Lunatic, a mysterious NEXT who burns criminals with his powers in case the Sternbild heroes failed to apprehend them. However, his methods are treated with disdain from the heroes, particularly from Kotetsu. In Season 2, his vigilantism is brought up by some kids in a Kids Law Classroom who think Lunatic is doing the right thing until Kotetsu corrects them, telling them Lunatic is a murderer who must be brought to justice. Then, the kid argues why Lunatic hasn't been arrested yet and finds it lame that he hasn't appeared for a while. The irony of that is Lunatic's civilian identity is the city's judge and curator of Hero TV, Yuri Petrov, who is busy overseeing with heroes. While he's a bit apprehensive of changes in the Hero system such as the Buddy system where the heroes work in tandem, he still wants to see if Kotetsu's belief in justice and partnership with Barnaby is better than his way.

    Comic Books 
  • 100 Bullets: The series revolves around ordinary people being given the identity of someone who wronged them, proof of their wrongdoing, and 100 bullets and a gun that can't be used as evidence against them. While at least one case recipient is more than happy once he kills his wrongdoer, most end up sucked into various cycles of violence, are stricken with guilt, or end up having their lives ruined by the revelation. The ultimate moral seems to be that violence isn't an answer.
  • Batman: White Knight: This story completely deconstructs Batman's crusade against evil as in this story, Joker takes a drug to cure himself of his insanity and he proceeds to sue Gotham for letting Batman do what he does. Jack Napier points out that Batman damages multiple properties, uses military-grade equipment, usually beats up people with mental illnesses, and then dumps his victims in Arkham Asylum where they are treated more like prisoners than patients. Jack also discovers the "Batman Devastation Fund", where three billion dollars per year, diverted from flood and hurricane prevention, is used to fix the damage created when Batman fights super-criminals. It's eventually revealed that the policy is not billed to taxpayers, but to various companies owned by Bruce Wayne, meaning throughout the years of his career, Batman has been paying for reparations of his own rampages. While the story concludes with Gotham needing Batman, Batman reveals his secret identity and starts improving the police by sharing his technology with them.
    Batman: I enjoy hurting criminals, Jim. I don't use a gun and I don't take lives - but that doesn't always make me the good guy. Sometimes it's vindication to be as brutal as I want. And that made criminals like the Joker even worse. Sometimes I'm not sure why I wear the mask. Is it to scare them? Or is it because I scare myself?
  • Civil War: In this series of comics, all vigilantes are forced to follow a government procedure where they reveal their personal identities and work with the government as registered heroes after a tragedy kills 612 civilians.
  • Marvel Comics: Part of the reason J. Jonah Jameson has such hatred for masked vigilantes (Spider-Man in particular) is that he strongly believes that if they were truly good, then they shouldn't have to hide behind masks and secret identities that allow them to duck responsibility for the destructiveness of their actions. That's also why he is often depicted as having much more respect for heroes like the Fantastic Four or Captain America, whose identities are public.
    • This is brought up in Spider-Man (PS4) when a police officer who normally agrees with Jameson calls up to tell him how maybe he was wrong since Spidey just helped him out. Jameson points out that, yes, sure, Spider-Man helped... but if Spider-Man was ever wrong, would he ever be held accountable the way a police officer would? Police officers have to undergo training for years to be ready and are backed by the law; the only thing Spider-Man has going for him are his powers with no legal backing or sanction. The officer sees his point and goes back to disliking Spider-Man.
      J. Jonah Jameson: If you caused the kind of damage he does, what would happen?
      Caller: I'd be doing paperwork until the day I retire and probably riding a desk too.
      J. Jonah Jameson: And why, my dear friend, should you have to follow these rules, and not him?
  • Subverted or played straight with The Punisher depending on whether he's the hero or the antagonist of the series.
    • Several encounters with Thou Shalt Not Kill superheroes end with him on the receiving end of a Curbstomp Battle, but he says that until they start killing criminals (starting with him), he's going to keep killing criminals (even in prison).
      • One story has Frank lure Daredevil into a trap and force him into a Sadistic Choice: Daredevil is tied up with a gun pointed at Frank's head while Frank is preparing to snipe a mob boss, so either Frank kills the boss or Daredevil kills Frank. Daredevil eventually takes the shot... but the gun was empty.
    • Another story has Daredevil protecting a mob boss from Frank (and preventing the mobster from being rescued) during the man's transfer to Texas (as the mobster's attorney, Matt Murdock wants a fair trial and believes there's no way to get an unbiased jury in New York). Frank (who doesn't know Daredevil's secret identity) sneers at this and calls Murdock a hypocrite to Daredevil's face, claiming the real reason is that Texas still has the death penalty, so Murdock is actually trying to get the mobster killed without getting his hands dirty.
    • It's pointed out many, many times by heroes and criminals alike that Frank's war on crime is no longer justified, that his family's killers are long dead, that no matter how many criminals he's killed there'll always be more, that he hasn't made any change to crime rates, etc. In The Punisher MAX series, turns out Frank is perfectly aware of this: his goal is simply to kill all the criminals he can before he finally dies (he's actually punishing himself for his failure to be with his family after returning from Vietnam).
    • In one comic, Frank comes across a couple of police officers wearing pins of his skull insignia on their uniforms in a show of support for what he does. He takes them to task for this, saying they need to be emulating Captain America, not him.
  • The Transformers: Punishment: The killer pursued by Optimus Prime and Barricade turns out to have been targeting Cybertronians, both Autobot and Decepticon, who carried out war crimes during the just concluded Forever War. However, his actions risked inflaming tensions between the Autobots, Decepticons and Neutrals, to the point that Starscream (in his position of elected leader) gave orders to raze the Decepticon ghettos in an attempt to flush out information, though Barricade refuses to follow said orders and continues the investigation. Optimus Prime himself points out during the final confrontation that due to how terrible the war was, just about everyone was involved with some sort of war crime, and the killer's "justice" was more about how he couldn't come to terms with the idea of such monsters just... settling down peacefully.

    Films — Animated 
  • In the animated film TMNT, Leonardo doesn't like the vigilant Nightwatcher because he thinks he does more harm than good in stopping the criminals and protecting the city at night. Things get more complicated when Leonardo discovers that the vigilant he hates is his brother Raphael in disguise and they have a fight on the rooftop.

    Films — Live Action 
  • The Batman (2022): Batman's vigilantism and Terror Hero persona is deconstructed heavily. Not only does it simply cause fear among the populace rather than prevent crime from occurring, but most of the police don't trust him, and even suspect him as a potential murder suspect. The Riddler compares himself to Batman a lot, as they both want to take down the system destroying Gotham, and scare people in order to do it. Batman manages to turn his reputation around at the end, however, by acting as a Hope Bringer for people during a crisis, rather than just someone who hurts people.
  • This topic is discussed in The Dark Knight, and is later called into question by the film itself. The previous film, Batman Begins, saw Bruce become Batman because Gotham PD was rotten to the core, and all attempts at de-corrupting the city were being sabotaged. Between the end of that film and now, Gotham has gotten cleaner as citizens and police have rallied around Batman as a symbol of justice. This has led to a number of copycat vigilantes trying to enforce justice of their own as well outside of the law. Batman's existence and the city's embrace of him are questioned given the city's history, and many see his existence as problematic because The Joker is demanding he turn himself in, but Batman proves to be the person Gotham needs to take the Joker down, and because the Joker exists because Batman exists.
  • Don't Torture a Duckling: The film makes perfectly clear that the acts of street justice that the citizens are performing in the search of a serial murderer of children are just the mob exploiting the situation to freely hurt and kill anybody they despise, and furthermore the alleged justice that this act brings is tainted by their savagery.
  • Gran Torino: Walt's attempt to help the Vang Lor family by assaulting a gang member leads to a drive-by shooting, the injury of Thao, and the kidnapping and rape of Sue. While Thao desires revenge, Walt imprisons him so he can't take revenge since Walt knows from experience that killing others isn't as glorious as Thao thinks. Walt instead orchestrates his own death, sacrificing himself so that Spider and the gang can be arrested for mercilessly gunning down an old man reaching for his cigarette lighter.
  • Halloween Kills: The citizens of Haddonfield form a vigilante mob intent on tracking down and killing Michael Myers once and for all. Unfortunately, when a huge, disorganized group of untrained civilians try to help stop a killer, they end up causing more of a panic, overrunning the local hospital and they cause the death of a mentally ill man by mistake. Though they manage to lure the Shape into an ambush, he ends up getting the upper hand and ruthlessly slaughters all of them.
  • Hang 'Em High: The Big Bad Ensemble of the film is a posse who mistook protagonist Jed Cooper for a cattle thief on circumstantial evidence (Jed had the bad luck of purchasing his cattle very shortly before the real thief killed the man Jed bought it from, a fact discovered by a proper Circuit Judge much later in the day) and lynched him, only for Jed to survive and come looking for them as the judge's newly-appointed Sheriff, and while Jed tries to not go on the customary Roaring Rampage of Revenge, the majority of the members of the posse refuse to be arrested.
  • Discussed in-depth in The Hateful Eight.
    Oswaldo Mobray (lecturing Daisy): John Ruth wants to take you back to Red Rock to stand trial for murder. And, if... you're found guilty, the people of Red Rock will hang you in the town square. And as the hangman, I will perform the execution. And if all those things end up taking place, that's what civilized society calls "justice". However, if the relatives and the loved ones of the person you murdered were outside that door right now, and after busting down that door they drug you out in the snow and hung you up by the neck...that would be frontier justice. Now the good part about frontier justice, is it's very thirst-quenching. The bad part is it's apt to be wrong as right!
  • The Hunt (2012): In this 2012 Danish movie, Lucas is framed as a pedophile by a kindergarten student, Klara after he rejected her crush on him. The whole town eventually turns on him as they harass, assault, bully, and eventually kill his dog to punish him for this accusation. When Clara admits that she lied, Lucas's life seemingly goes back to normal until a stranger tries to kill him in the woods, presumably because they believe Lucas is still guilty of pedophilia.
  • Joker (2019) has the title character gradually go from a mentally ill, gentle soul to a radicalized criminal who rants against the injustices of society that mistreated him. While he himself denies having any real vigilante motives, his words inspire a riot of people wearing clown masks (after Thomas Wayne called them clowns for protesting against economic inequality) who rally against the Gotham upper class. They then cause chaos throughout the city, terrifying the innocent public, with one murdering Thomas and Martha Wayne in front of their son Bruce. Even though their grievances are legitimate, the film casts them not as agents of justice but as a disgruntled underclass lashing out and going too far, while Joker is ultimately not much happier with them than he was beforehand.
  • Magnum Force: The Big Bad Ensemble of this film is a tiny squad of cops who have decided to murder criminals that escaped the law (and the ones who appear on screen as targets are huge examples of the Asshole Victim). However, the problem becomes that the cops are kill-happy maniacs perfectly willing to annihilate anybody who has the bad luck of standing right beside the criminal as collateral damage regardless of their own innocence or guilt, and anybody who tries to stop them (even fellow cops). It is also highly implied that the killer cops have been picked by the Big Bad, Captain Briggs, as his personal (expendable) hit team for future nefarious purposes. Harry Callahan even gives them a "The Reason You Suck" Speech early in the climax in which he sarcastically asks them how long is it going to take them to expand their vigilante act to target people who are only "criminals" in the broadest sense of the term, like those who let their dogs piss on someone else's lawn, and what they plan to do next week (after they killed a dozen people this one). The killer cops answer "we'll kill a dozen more".
  • The Ox-Bow Incident: In the story, a rancher is murdered and the deputy rallies a mob to solve the crime. They hang the suspects without due process and the story famously harpoons the concept of vigilante justice by revealing that the cattle rancher wasn't actually dead and they had actually hanged 3 innocent men.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Black Mirror:
    • White Bear: In this story, a woman has lost her memory and is told that the world is brainwashed and she is being actively hunted. The twist is that the woman is Victoria Skillane, who was arrested for recording the murder and torture of Jemima Sykes at the hands of Victoria's fiance, Iain Rannoch. Victoria is being repeatedly tortured in the White Bear Justice Park as visitors pay to watch her suffer. The episode is designed to question whether or not Victoria truly deserves this punishment and if the workers at the White Bear Justice Park are in the right to punish her so severely for what she did.
    • Shut Up and Dance: In this story, Kenny has his computer hacked and the hackers record him masturbating. The hackers force Kenny to do all sorts of odd jobs under the threat of sending the video to all his contacts. After robbing a bank, Kenny is forced to fight a man to the death and it's revealed that Kenny was actually masturbating to child pornography and everything he did was to protect himself from being exposed as a pedophile. After killing the man, Kenny's secret is exposed anyway and is arrested for possession of child pornography, robbery, and murder. After Kenny's secret is revealed, the episode asks whether or not the hackers are in the right to punish Kenny as they forced him to kill someone and rob a bank rather than submit the evidence to the police.
  • Criminal Minds: The unspoken rule regarding every vigilante that the BAU tracks is that no matter what they're telling themselves, they are ultimately killing people to try and make themselves feel better, and they cannot be ignored because they unavoidably devolve and kill someone innocent. A man killing a jerk on the road gets addicted to repeating that sensation, a woman murdering Asshole Victims kills a good man to cover her tracks, and a pair of revenge killers get so wrapped up in their cathartic justice that they overlook just how much damage they're actually doing, a man stabbing people who got away with their crimes in court is just trying to silence the voices in his head created from the stresses of being a court typist. And that's not even getting into the more delusional Unsubs who only think their targets are evil because of their own warped ideologies. Bottom line, a murderer is a murderer regardless of the victim, and the BAU has to help stop them.
  • CSI-verse:
    • CSI:
      • In the episode "Blood Lust", after a teenager who had been fatally stabbed stumbles to a road and drops dead in the middle of it, a taxi driver accidentally runs over the dead body and gets out of the taxi to see what happened, notices the body, and rushes back in to try to call for help. Unfortunately, a bunch of men at a nearby stop misinterpreted the man's reactions for trying to run away and kill him in a rage. After the police puts together the whole chain of events, they arrest all of the members of the mob and make clear that their act of vigilantism was unnecessary and will put them all in jail for the rest of their lives.
      • In the episode "Unfriendly Skies", the Las Vegas Police is asked by the FAA to investigate the murder of a flight's passenger which happened mid-flight. It turns out that the man was undergoing an attack of encephalitis that was caused by the pressure change, which initially manifested in him annoying everybody else in the cabin with a massive bout of obnoxiousness and escalated into a full-blown freak out that made him try to open the cabin mid-flight, which made all of the passengers gang up on him and beat him to death (and try to conceal their involvement, including the moment the man dragged himself away from the door, which turned their own attack from self-defense into an outright lynching). Once everything is said and done, the FAA refuse to file charges on the passengers, claiming that there's no way a jury won't see their actions as legitimate self-defense and momentary insanity caused by mob mentality, and Grissom decries that maybe if any of the passengers had seen past the dead man's obnoxiousness and just plain asked him if he was all right, maybe things would have ended differently. At one point the CSI team even wonders if they would have acted any differently and they are divided by it, with Catherine saying that if the other option was risking her daughter's death to a plane crash, she would have killed the guy.
    • CSI: NY: In "Taxi", three taxi drivers kill another taxi driver, believing him to be the elusive cabbie killer. Not only is he revealed to be innocent, but he turns out to be a police officer who was moonlighting as a cab driver.
  • DCI Banks: "Friend of the Devil" features a vigilante on the loose the new forensic pathologist Dr Elizabeth Waring. Having been the victim of a Serial Rapist in their youth, they killed the rapist and now execute predators by slitting their throats with a scalpel. Whilst sympathetic it soon becomes apparent that despite their claims of helping remove dangers, all of this is just an unhealthy coping mechanism for their own trauma, leading to the kidnapping and execution of Lucy Payne even though a paralyzed Lucy had already been arrested. Then they become convinced that a teen's murder means there is yet another serial offender on the loose. Their attempts to kill them result in the accidental murder of an innocent detective (who ironically was also there trying to stop the mythical serial offender). On top of that their efforts to avoid capture only interfere with the original murder investigation so that the real culprit almost gets away. They even nearly murder Sergeant Cabbot in a last desperate attempt to escape.
  • Grange Hill: After the school bully Gripper Stebson's long reign of terror, a group of pupils plot to ambush him in the school toilets. Mr Baxter intervenes just in time, saying that vigilantism cannot be tolerated, no matter how justified one feels; but as he loathes Stebson as much as everybody else, he adds that he was very tempted to remain outside.
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: In the episode about bail, John points out how counterproductive bounty hunters are. John shows that celebrity bounty hunters hunt people for spectator sport and have even hurt and killed innocent people during their hunts, simply because the bounty hunters went to the wrong address.
  • Law & Order:
    • In Crimebusters, a vigilante group decides to help the protagonists and call their mission "Operation Molly". In the episode, the vigilantes are shown to be very unhelpful as they harass a suspect, contaminate evidence, and even assault the suspect after robbing him. The vigilantes are arrested for assault and robbery and the cops point out that the suspect's defense attorney will try to convince the court that the group planted evidence to ensure an arrest.
    • A convicted murderer escapes custody and kills four teenage girls, with the father of one of the girls standing close enough to hear the shots. The father later kills the convict; after he refuses a plea bargain, McCoy takes him to trial and is able to secure a conviction despite the circumstances (by pointing out that an acquittal would be an inherent endorsement of vigilantism). The creepy part, though? The killer's Amoral Attorney had actually sent him information about the other man's release, manipulating the guy into killing the culprit so she could make herself look good by defending him (she was running for political office). McCoy and his team get a ''spectacular'' revenge by foiling the last part of her plan and getting the lawyer indicted for murder and conspiracy, and the client she effectively suckered in gets a reduced sentence in exchange for testifying against her.
    • In the episode "World's Fair", one of the suspects (the boyfriend of the victim) goes to her family to assure them he didn't do it. The victim's brother gets confrontational and the boyfriend ends up being shot by the victim's father (who believed he did it). It turns out that the brother killed her, and knew full well the boyfriend was innocent.
    • "Free Speech" focuses on the murder of a left-wing politician named Derek Hoyt by a man named Manny Lopez. Lopez was (wrongly) convinced that Hoyt was a pedophile and was incited to murder him by a right-wing media star named Jordan Reed, who had also fabricated photos of Hoyt with teenage girls to make him look like a predator. When Lopez hangs himself, the prosecution goes after Reed for causing Hoyt's death.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • An episode had a child molester who actually reformed. He was framed for a murder-rape and got off, but then someone shot him.
    • An accidental example occurs in another SVU episode; a teenage girl accuses a man of rape, and the detectives let him go due to a lack of evidence. The girl's father then kidnaps him and tries to beat a confession out of him but winds up killing him by accident. The kicker? He was just an innocent bystander trying to return her purse, the real rapist was the girl's dentist uncle who drugged her, and the ending implies that the father will probably get off easy since he attempted CPR.
    • in Wannabe (S11E23), Brad Fletcher passed himself as a cop, nearly ruining the investigation.
    • "Real Fake News" deals with a Congressman and a Chinese restaurant being smeared by a fringe website with false accusations of child trafficking. Earlier in the episode, a man with a rifle shows up at the restaurant to "rescue" children allegedly being held in the restaurant's basement and finds neither a basement nor any captive children. In the epilogue, the Congressman comes to the restaurant to prove that nothing sinister is going on, only to be shot by a man who sees the Congressman playing with his daughter and mistakes him for a pedophile.
  • Luther: The second half of Season three sees John Luther go up against Tom Marwood, a vigilante who broadcasts his murders on the internet, giving his audience a chance to vote whether they deserves to die. Whilst initially sympathetic considering he was failed by the police over his beloved wife's brutal rape and murder, it soon becomes clear that underneath Tom's protected image of a heroic moral crusader he is truthfully an unstable, attention obsessed hypocrite with a massive Never My Fault complex. Its not long before he descends into killing innocent civilians simply for being in the way of his crusade. By the end, he's further deteriorated into threatening to rape and kill a completely innocent woman himself. Sergeant Justin Ripley calls him out in the final confrontation that his actions have accomplished nothing but ruining more innocent lives and that his philosophy can only get people killed.
  • In an episode of New York Undercover, a black man takes his sick daughter to a hospital and demands that she be treated by a white doctor, believing that black doctors are less competent. After some time, the white doctor comes out and tells him that his daughter is going to be fine. Sometime later, a black doctor comes out and informs him that she has died due to complications. The father is enraged, believing that it was the black doctor's fault. At the end of the episode, he is found having just murdered the black doctor with an injection and is informed that it was the white doctor's fault, who has a habit of prescribing potentially lethal doses of medication to his patients.
  • Peacemakers: Played for Laughs. Adrian Chase, AKA Vigilante, seems to be under the impression that All Crimes Are Equal and doesn't seem to understand moral ambiguity. Peacemaker, a Heroic Comedic Sociopath himself, is noticeably disturbed by Vigilante's indifference to human life, as he casually admits to brutally murdering people over graffiti.
  • The Boys (2019): Blue Hawk is one of the lesser-known supes under the control of Vought and in season 3 he gained country-wide attention for gruesomely executing a black man who was walking behind a white woman (she thought he was following her and about to attack her). When confronted about this, Blue Hawk is dismissive and gives a blatantly insincere apology to the community, and needlessly fights his way out when confronted over his behavior.
  • The Walker, Texas Ranger episode "The Brotherhood" had three Dirty Cops who did this to criminals they feel didn't get the punishment they deserved. Their downfall begins when they kill a person who was actually innocent; DNA evidence exonerated him, but the cops never checked. Needless to say, Walker warned them this sort of thing would happen!
  • Without a Trace:
    • "The Damage Done" sees the team investigating the disappearance of Albanian mob boss Sadik Marku's girlfriend and son. The team come to suspect an Aryan Brotherhood gang member is behind the kidnapping as revenge for Sadik screwing him over a weapons deal in the past. When they arrive at the man's apartment, they find him being tortured by Sadik. Not only does the gang member turn out to be innocent of the kidnapping, but he is also revealed to be an undercover cop and Sadik is now in major trouble for torturing him.
    • "The Bogie Man" focuses on the disappearance of Daisy Horne. Everyone in town believes the culprit to be Curtis Thorpe who was also suspected but never proven to have murdered a girl named Amber Bryce seven years ago. When Curtis is found dead, the team learns that he was confronted by a mob that included Amber's father, but they aren't the ones who killed him. It is ultimately revealed that Daisy ran away from home because her father had been sexually abusing her. She had confided this in Curtis who refused to tell her father where she was going, resulting in him being killed. To make matters worse, the team learn that the sheriff had discovered and unintentionally tampered with evidence that could have proven Curtis's innocence.

    Video Games 
  • Ace Attorney will sometimes have these in their Who Murdered the Asshole cases. The Sympathetic Murderer will turn out to have been wronged in the past, lost faith in the legal system that failed to provide justice, and went on a crusade to personally take revenge. While there are more heroic vigilantes like the Yatagarasu who go out of their way to avoid killing anyone, a frequent moral of the series is that taking the law into your own hands rarely ends well.
    • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trials and Tribulations: The true killer of the last case, Diego Armando/Godot, sought to put an end to Dahlia Hawthorne's schemes, and his murder could be said to have been in defense of another. But it is pointed out that the killer, intentionally or not, allowed the situation to escalate to the point where deadly force was needed, and the killer needlessly endangered innocent people in their desire to take the law into their own hands and be the hero, when they could have just told Phoenix what was going on and avoided the whole mess. The killer, for their part, actually agrees and feels that they deserve to be punished for what they did.
    • In Investigations 2, Simon Keyes is revealed to have masterminded almost every murder in the game in order to punish all the people who made his life miserable, from childhood to adulthood. Edgeworth sympathizes and calls him a victim of the system, but also says that it does not justify hurting innocent people like Kay Faraday and John Marsh by trying to frame them and that he became just like the people he so despises.
    • The Great Ace Attorney:
      • In Adventures, Ashely Graydon murdered Magnus McGilded, a Loan Shark, in revenge for the man murdering his father and managing to secure an acquittal. This makes the killer a sympathetic character, but he then, in the process of covering his tracks, murders an innocent man and frames street urchin Gina Lestrade for it. He himself admits to having become as bad as his victim.
      • In the first case of Resolve, the victim is Jezaille Brett, who was murdered by Raiten Menimemo to stop the victim from getting away with murder. Because Brett was British and not Japanese, she was going to be sent to a British court to be tried- where she would almost certainly be let off scot-free thanks to being a hired gun of the Lord Chief Justice. But the killer then goes on to frame Rei Membami, and is called out by Susato Mikotoba for becoming the same sort of person as the victim.
  • Dead Rising 2: Two psychopaths, Brent "Slappy" Ernst and Carl Schliff fight Chuck under the belief he caused the outbreak that killed thousands.
    • Brent is a socially awkward teen whose crush was killed by zombies after he had finally summed up the courage to ask her out on a first date. After learning that Chuck had allegedly caused the outbreak, he began stalking the Palasades Mall to find and kill Chuck in revenge. When he finally meets Chuck, Brent has clearly lost his mind as he refers to himself as Slappy and acts like he and his crush were already in a relationship.
    • Carl Schliff is a diligent mailman who chose to deliver the mail during the outbreak and is introduced trying to deliver Zombrex to someone. When Chuck absent-mindedly gives his identity to Carl so he can get the Zombrex for Katey, Carl identifies him as the terrorist who stopped the postal service and tries to blow him with a parcel bomb, only for Chuck to throw it into his mail cart and destroy it.
  • Dead Rising 2: Off the Record: In the alternate continuity of Dead Rising 2, Carl Schliff tries to kill Frank West with a parcel bomb under the belief that he committed mail fraud for accepting a package that didn't belong to him. After blowing up his mail cart, Carl fights Frank under the belief that he's taking advantage of the anarchy to do whatever he wants.
  • Far Cry 5: Zig-Zagged, the residents of Hope County have only formed a public militia against Joseph Seed because he bribed the local police into turning a blind eye. The main theme of the game is about escalation and why you shouldn't try to fix problems by yourself. In the intro to the game, a small police squad marches to Joseph Seed's compound to arrest him and he surrenders to them without question. If the player hesitates to arrest him, Joseph will repeat a private conversion between Sheriff Whitehorse and Nancy, the dispatcher of the Hope County Sheriff Office. This interaction clues Whitehorse in as to what will happen if they arrest Joseph in his territory, so the sheriff commands the squad to leave so they get better reinforcements from the national guard. After Joseph is arrested, the helicopter crashes, and both endings of the game are rather bleak; the sheriff and the deputies are either killed by the brainwashed player character, or America is nuked and it results in the deaths of everyone but Joseph and the player character. All the player needed to do to get the good ending is to follow procedure and leave the compound to get better reinforcements, not take justice into their own hands and fix the situation on their own.
  • Injustice explores a scenario where Superman loses Metropolis to a nuke planted by the Joker. Superman turns vengeful, and puts the Earth under his thumb, ruling like a dictator. Those few Justice Leaguers that dare to question him get put down hard. He takes the maxim "The wages of sin is death" to its practical extreme, becoming a Nigh-Invulnerable Well-Intentioned Extremist with a zero-tolerance policy.
  • Spider-Man (PS4): While J. Jonah Jameson is usually portrayed in the wrong for his prejudice against vigilantes, he makes a point that Spidey should have joined the Police Academy and got a badge. At least then, his heroics could at least be made legal and sanctioned.
    J. Jonah Jameson: It is not helping when a vigilante leaps into the middle of a crime scene or emergency situation with no training, expertise, or public identity. What if he injures someone? Who holds him accountable?

    Western Animation 
  • Batman: The Animated Series: In "Trial", Arkham Asylum is overtaken by the inmates, and Batman is brought to trial because they believe Batman does more harm than good, a sentiment that is shared by D.A. Janet Van Dorn. In the end however, Van Dorn decides that Gotham does need Batman and the Rogues Gallery is responsible for how their lives turned out.
  • Men in Black: The Series: Brought up in "The Zero to Superhero Syndrome." An alien saves a human child from a fire, concealing his identity as he's using special powers specific to his species. When the tabloids report on the incident, the alien, disillusioned with his humdrum earth life, decides to become a real superhero named Cosmosisman. His activities naturally attract MiB's attention, but Jay is quick to point out the alien isn't doing any harm, he's actually trying to help. Kay reminds his partner that such a high profile person will inevitably attract investigations he won't be able to handle, endangering The Masquerade. More importantly, however, is that word of this will cause alien scoundrels to come to Earth looking to make a name for themselves by beating the planter's supposed champion. Sure enough, a nasty alien biker with superpowers of his own shows up to challenge Cosmosisman to a fight, causing lots of property damage.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In the episode "Homer the Vigilante", after a series of burglaries hit Springfield, Homer forms a vigilante group with Barney, Apu, and Moe in hopes to catch the cat burglar. But Homer and the group abuse their power to the point the news says they've caused more crimes than they stopped. The group disbands after the world's largest cubic zirconium gets stolen by the burglar from the museum while under Homer's watch (he had gone off to get drunk with underage kids) and the town turns on him. While the episode does show that vigilantism can be inefficient when someone like Homer is in charge, the episode has Grandpa figure out who the burglar is and report him.
    • In "Homer Badman", Homer is framed as a pervert after seemingly pinching the butt of a babysitter (when he was actually peeling off a rare gummi candy (one shaped like the Venus de Milo that she had unknowingly sat on). Rather than call the police, she rallies a mob and harasses him for being a pervert. After trying and failing multiple times to clear his name, Groundskeeper Willie saves him by showing Ashley a recording of Homer taking the gummi candy.
  • The Venture Brothers: Parodied. In "Handsome Ransom", Captain Sunshine fights Monarch's henchmen and when he finally reaches Monarch, he takes him to jail and physically drops him inside it. However, since Sunshine has no evidence of Monarch's wrongdoings and there's no official documentation for his arrest, the warden just lets him go since Captain Sunshine didn't consider the legal requirements to actually put Monarch in prison.

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