05 September 2013

Zimmerman: Part Three, Advice For Watchful Neighborhooders.

Mr. George Zimmerman was not on neighborhood watch duty the night he killed Trayvon Martin. He was driving to the market and saw the youth behaving suspiciously and followed him in his car and lost him and then got out to re-acquire the suspect on foot.  The rest is history.

Some say he shouldn't have followed the youth.  Some say he shouldn't have exited his vehicle. Some say he should have just left it up to the police.

I'm certain that Mr. Zimmerman, looking back, would have done things differently.  But I reject the idea put forth by one side that checking out suspicious behavior in your neighborhood is a bad thing.  There must be a way to be a concerned neighbor without putting yourself or others in danger. 

What this comes down to is both sides misunderstanding the other person's motives.  Martin thought the man following him was a stalker.  Zimmerman thought Martin was casing the neighborhood for a burglary.

Did Zimmerman intend to harm Martin?

No.  I don't believe that was what he had in mind that night.  Some extremists have suggested that Zimmerman was hunting Martin, that he was keen on shooting the black boy.  I reject that idea because if it were true, a trigger-happy Zimmerman would have had his pistol unholstered and in his hand and would have just fired, cold-bloodedly, when they met in the dark.

Was Martin up to no good?  

No.  He may have been wandering, but he wasn't casing the homes.  I am convinced of this because of how he reacted to being followed.  Someone who is contemplating a break-in, and knows he is being spied on does not react with indignation.  He figures the caper is blown and disappears.  He doesn't confront his follower.

Here's some advice to anyone who wishes to check out suspicious behavior in his neighbohood:

  1. Never go alone.  Grab another adult or two and stay together.  You are less likely to get jumped if you have a partner with you, and, importantly, you also have a witness.
  2. "Check Out" does not mean to confront or arrest.  Your task is to observe and remember and be a deterrent just by being there and having a cell phone.   
  3. Have a badge or card or cap or some other insignia that identifies you as a bona fide watchperson.
  4. Have a blinky light with a magnetic base that you can slap on the roof of your car and plug into the power socket on the console, for when you suddenly want to turn from ordinary neighbor into watch-neighbor in a patrol car.  The color of the blinky is important.  Check with the local police.  They reserve certain colored lights for official police business.
  5. Call the police and tell them who you are and what you are doing and where you are and that it is not an emergency, but that you have reason to believe you have person or persons acting suspiciously in your neighborhood.
Should you follow the suspicious person?

If you can do so safely.  Keep in mind that you do not know the person.  He may not take kindly to being shadowed.  He may be drugged-up and paranoid and violent, and armed.  And even if you stay in your car, he could still attack.  That driver window is not much of a barrier to a gun, knife or tire iron.  If you follow you'd better be able to defend yourself, and then be willing to deal with all the consequences.
Keep in mind that Zimmerman wanted to keep Martin in sight so he could point the police to him when they showed up.  This turned out disastrously for both men. 

There was a moment, early on, before any harm was done, when Martin approached Zimmerman's car and asked him why he was following him.  Zimmerman didn't answer.  He should have.  It would have defused the whole situation.  It might have gone something like this:

M:  Why are you following me?

Z:  (Cracks window a few inches)  My name is George and I'm a member of the neighborhood watch.  I'm following you because there have been break-ins around here recently and your wandering is suspicious to me.  What's your name?  Do you live in this neighborhood?  

M:  Yes.  I'm visiting my Dad and his girlfriend.

Z:  What is the address and what are their names?

M:  I don't know the address, but they live over there, and I don't have to tell you anything.  I'm not doing anything wrong.

Z:  That may be, but here's what's going to happen now.  You are going to walk directly to your Dad's house and I'm going to follow you there in my car.

M:  I don't trust you and I'm not going to lead you to where I live. 

Z:  Then I am going to call the police and let them sort this out.  Would that make you feel safer?

M:  It's raining and I'm out of here.  (He takes off running between houses where Z can't follow and goes home).

In this scenario Martin now knows the reason for Zimmerman following him, so instead of the black youth losing the watchman and then circling back around to break his nose, he just goes home and stays there and lives.    

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