Everybody and their mother has weighed in on the death of Trayvon Martin and I’m going to do so as well…in a sense. I’m not going to opine on any of the things the media and public figures have speculated on. No, I’m going to discuss the fact that the man who killed Trayvon Martin is described as “Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman.”
I don’t know if Zimmerman was a member of an actual organized Neighborhood Watch but that’s kind of irrelevant, because even if he was, he was doing it all wrong.
I’m currently the public safety chair for my local civic association, which means I read the crime reports from the county police and poke at people to go out and patrol.
Yes, I’m a Neighborhood Watch volunteer. And the first thing the police department told us when we began training was to not engage with anyone involved in suspicious activity. And that was the last thing they said. And they said it a few times in between.
The job of the Neighborhood Watch is to watch. (See? It’s in the name. Clever, no?) Our job is to walk or ride around with a cell phone and call if we see anything suspicious. We don’t talk to people who look like they’re committing a crime, we don’t follow them, we don’t approach them, we don’t challenge them, and we don’t carry a weapon. Ever.
My cell phone contact list has the county police non-emergency line, the park police emergency number, and the park police non-emergency. (Our neighborhood borders a large county park.) If I ever have to dial 911, I’m assuming I can remember that one on my own.
The job of the Neighborhood Watch is to call the most appropriate number (and we were trained on what’s an emergency and what isn’t, and when to call the park police) and give them whatever information we have: “I’m on Ashley Drive, at the intersection of Topping, and as I drove by, I saw someone with a flashlight in the backyard by the back door.”
Then the police can come out and assess whether a crime is being or has been committed. End of story. We were told over and over that if something looked wrong or looked weird, we should call and the police would come, but we should report what we saw and keep going.
Now, the truth of the life of the Neighborhood Watch is that in a neighborhood like mine we’re pretty damn unlikely to actually catch a crime being committed. Believe me, I don’t exactly live in the most dangerous crime-ridden area 😀
And sometimes you can find your mind wandering and imagine yourself a hero who foils a terrible crime. I get that, believe me. I’ve had those daydreams myself while turning from Boiling Brook onto Rocking Horse for the millionth time.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to carry a gun and run around challenging everyone I don’t recognize. Hell, my neighborhood has about 1,300 homes—I don’t even recognize all the people who live here!
I wasn’t there when George Zimmerman approached Trayvon Martin. I have no idea what happened that night and I don’t want to speculate. But I do know that no Neighborhood Watch volunteer should be brandishing a gun and chasing down people they find suspicious.
In sum, I think Neighborhood Watch is a great idea. The more eyes that are out there looking out for trouble, the better. Let’s all take responsibility for keeping our neighbors and neighborhood safe, but let’s do so in a smart way. If you see something wrong, call the cops. That’s what they’re there for!