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Abolish the Police, Arm the Citizens: The "Sagra Model" of Privatized Security
The leader of the approaching convoy was Sergei “The Gypsy” Lebedev, head of a criminal gang that had tormented Sagra for months. Lebedev's followers swiped anything of value that was left unguarded. Power tools, appliances, and other household property disappeared; homes were vandalized as copper tubing and wiring were ripped out to be sold to scrap metal dealers. An onslaught of shoplifting threatened the survival of the village’s only significant retail store.
Exasperated citizens complained to the police in nearby Yekaterinberg, only to be treated with a mixture of amusement and impatient annoyance. Mounting hostility against Lebedev and his underlings prompted the gangster to withdraw – but only to gather reinforcements.
Lebedev was no petty cut-purse; his entourage included at least one vory v zakone (“thief in law”) – that is, a member of a politically protected mafia.
The gang leader’s intent was to seize control of the village as a base of operations for a drug operation, and he clearly enjoyed the covert support of the region’s “law enforcement” establishment. Thus it was that late in the evening of July 1, Ledbedev assembled a contingent of about 60 armed thugs and mounted a punitive expedition against the village of 130 people.
As the headlights from the 15-vehicle convoy probed the gathering darkness, the men of Sagra formed a human roadblock across the bridge at the entrance to their town. The infernal column came to a halt, while its leader tried to decide how to deal with the unanticipated resistance. Suddenly a voice from behind them exclaimed, “Grenade!” An object that appeared to meet that description landed in the midst of the raiders, causing several to bolt in panic.
In fact, the weapon was a pine cone that had been hurled by Andrei Gorodilov, who had taken cover beside the road. At that signal, the air erupted in curses and insults hurled by many of the women of the village, who had hidden themselves behind trees.
The resulting diversion was brief, but effective: Andrei’s father, Viktor, let loose a blast from his shotgun. Two other defenders followed suit. The rest, bearing whatever improvised weapons they had found, lit into Lebedev’s hired killers with the unalloyed ferocity of men fighting on their own soil with their backs to their homes.
One of the invaders was killed, several more were wounded, and Lebedev was forced to retreat. At some point in the skirmish, Sagra resident Tatyana Gordeyeva contacted the police, who – displaying the efficiency and timeliness for which their profession is known – arrived long after the battle was over, and immediately began to treat the defenders as criminal suspects. Their first priority was not to pursue and arrest Lebedev and his cronies (who were eventually taken into custody), or to collect evidence for their eventual prosecution; instead, they attempted to clamp down a cover-up of the matter. They didn’t succeed.
Within a few days, news of the battle had been propagated throughout Russia, and Sagra quickly became “a catchword for a spate of violence around the country in which people have banded together to defend themselves in the absence of police protection,” noted the New York Times. An entrepreneur captured the public mood in a commemorative t-shirt with the inscription: “If the government can’t help people, it doesn’t have the right to forbid them from defending themselves – Sagra 2011.”
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