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Feb 2, 2022

"Let’s get this guy off the streets before he targets another innocent person." "If you’ve seen any of these fugitives, call our hotline now." "Thanks to a courageous tipster who did the right thing, this criminal won’t be bothering anybody else for a very long time."

For decades, local and national media - from nightly news broadcasts partnering with Crime Stoppers to primetime TV shows like America’s Most Wanted - have warned consumers of dangerous criminals on the lam, lurking outside our neighborhood grocery stores. The FBI and police departments throughout the country, the public is told, are doing everything they can to catch The Bad Guys—they just need a little help from concerned, responsible, and vigilant citizens like you.

Cue the calls to action imploring people to submit tips through hotlines, law enforcement websites, and social media. But what are the effects of this model, and how effective, really, is it? How does it shape the ways in which the US public understands crime? And why, after all of the scholarship documenting how police do little to make us more safe does this vigilante television addiction persist?

On this episode, we examine how news and pop cultural media deputize and urge listeners, readers, and viewers to act as neighborhood vigilantes. We study how this instills a climate of constant, unnecessary fear; presents the current US and criminal legal system as the only option to reduce crime; excludes crimes against the poor and working class like wage theft, food and housing insecurity, and lack of healthcare; and how these systemics can inflict unjust harm upon the subjects of these anonymous tips.

Our guest is journalist Tana Ganeva.