Haiti, an island beset by persistent gang violence and societal disorder, has witnessed a significant decrease in these violent episodes due to a surge in grassroots vigilante justice.
A recent report by The New York Times notes that the intense vigilante operation commenced in late April, when citizens took matters into their own hands, overpowering the police force in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital city.
In this instance, a mob of Haitian residents intervened when police apprehended 14 alleged gang members. They wrestled these suspects away, drenched them in gasoline, and burned them alive. This event sparked an ongoing campaign of retribution, which has seen at least 160 additional gang members meet a similar fate, resulting in a considerable decline in gang-related kidnappings and murders.
Prior to this vigilante response, gang activities had instilled such fear among residents that they often avoided leaving their homes. Extortion and wanton violence were daily concerns, especially last summer when the city saw a brutal tally of nearly 500 murders in less than 10 days. The constant terror led to many feeling unsafe even to purchase essential food supplies.
One local business owner recounted a grim routine of shakedowns to The New York Times. "Before the 24th, every day someone passed by and demanded that I give him money because of my little business. When I had no money, they took whatever they wanted from my table, and this happened at any time of the day."
The gruesome tactic of burning gang members alive has emerged as a disturbing hallmark of the vigilante reprisal. Gédéon Jean, executive director of CARDH, argued that this violent reaction by the population can be seen as self-defense after years of being subjected to gang law. He stated that, "Gangs are supported by certain authorities, politicians and business people. At almost all levels of the police force, gangs have links with police officers. The police do not have the means to systematically and simultaneously confront the growing gangs."
The gang menace in Haiti surged following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse at his home two years ago. This tragic event left a power vacuum in its wake, pushing the nation towards the edge of civil war.