The best thing that can be said about last week’s violent encounter between John Rote and Matthew Roesch at a Midtown Manhattan subway station is that nobody died. Roesch, who is homeless, was allegedly trying to rob a woman as she exited the 49th Street station. Transit authorities said that Rote, who is from West Virginia but lives in Queens, “pulled out a gun and tried to intervene.” Rote fired two shots, neither of which hit Roesch; both men were later arrested.
Inevitably, some will see Rote as a hero who did what must be done in a city where disorder has become much more common than it was only a few years ago. Others will judge him reckless, unjustified in thinking that the law was his to enforce.
“Everyone has a right to defend themselves or protect someone else in danger; nobody but the government has a right to punish,” the criminologist Brandon del Pozo, a former New York police officer, told me. “The problem with vigilantism is how it blurs this line,” he says, between “protection and punishment.”