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Civic Engagement vs. Playing Cop

One of the inner, intellectual conflicts I think the Zimmerman case has brought to light for me is the fact that I believe people do need to take more responsibility for the safety of their communities, but I also believe that, quite often, the type of people who are willing to step up to do this are not the types you’d really want involved. It is a dichotomy.

Regardless of whether Zimmerman is ultimately no billed or acquitted, for me it will still go back to the fact that he made the circumstances for an unnecessary confrontation, which lead to an unnecessary shooting. Had Zimmerman witnessed Martin breaking into cars, or assaulting people, and was in the process of tracking him so he could help the police find him, I think most people would look favorably on that kind of engagement, even if the police had advised against it. I certainly would look favorably on someone who helped police catch a a criminal after witnessing the crime.

I think the real problem in this case, and which makes it such a power keg, is the fact that Zimmerman had no objective reason to believe Treyvon was suspicious, and even if he did, confronting suspicious people is something that’s really best left to people who wear a badge and a uniform. The perception of suspicion is the racial element of the case. That’s why everyone is becoming unhinged.

Zimmerman’s friend, who is black, has defended him against charges of being a racist, saying “I’m a black male and all that I know is that George has never given me any reason whatsoever to believe he has anything against people of color.” I can believe that Zimmerman is not blatantly or outwardly racist, but it’s very difficult for me to see what else could have driven his suspicion. This townhouse complex doesn’t appear isolated or small enough that you can expect to have previously seen everyone who could be legitimately walking through the neighborhood. There seems to be many black families living in the neighborhood. It’s reasonable to expect black families have relatives who are also black, that may be seen walking through the neighborhood. So what was driving the suspicion? The hoodie? Even in the rain? One thought about why Martin could have been walking slowly and wandering around is that he was on the phone with his girlfriend, and Zimmerman couldn’t see the phone. I would tend to pace around slowly and act strangely if speaking to someone who couldn’t see the fact that I was on the phone. Perhaps that is objective grounds for suspicion, but for me it keeps coming back to suspicions being a good reason to wait for the cops. There’s a world of difference between suspicion and witnessing crime.

24 Responses to “Civic Engagement vs. Playing Cop”

  1. TS says:

    Sebastian: “I think the real problem in this case, and which makes it such a power keg, is the fact that Zimmerman had no objective reason to believe Treyvon was suspicious,…”

    I was just thinking myself the reasons why this case is getting so much attention. For me it came down to two things: the word “suspicious” (like you said) which kicked off the racial tension, and the lack of arrest. I don’t think it makes such national fury if he was charged and released on bail- though the antis would still be all over it.

    It also got me thinking about why this is getting so much more attention than a common equal tragedy occurring everyday in this nation: innocent youth murder simply for how they were dressed (except instead of a hoodie, it is rival gang colors). And instead of an over-zealous “mall-ninja” who took helping the community too far, the entire community refuses to work with police to catch the killer (even the eye-ball witnesses). That is certainly a bigger problem than CCW and self-defense.

  2. Philbert says:

    I think you’re right, it’s unlikely that Zimmerman is “blatantly or outwardly racist”. I think the main difficulty with making your next point is that there are many people who do not wish to acknowledge the existence of any racism that is not blatant and outward. That’s why people pull the “I’m not racist because I have black friends” cliche – it’s a non-sequitur unless you don’t understand that cross-burning, lynch-mob racism isn’t the only kind of racial bias that can be important.

  3. persiflage says:

    Please scrap that 8:10 post. It appears to be missing whole phrases of text that would have given it some contextual meaning. Thanks

  4. Serious Gun says:

    Suspicion is, as you said, a good reason to wait for cops.

  5. Laughingdog says:

    “The perception of suspicion is the racial element of the case. That’s why everyone is becoming unhinged.”

    Well, that combined with the fact that the only picture being put up shows Martin when he was 10-12 years old, instead of a picture of the more recent 6’2″ football player. I have co-workers that keeps saying “that child didn’t have to die”.

    Some of those cartoons you linked to in the other post aren’t far from what a lot actually see: some guy shooting a little kid.

  6. Richard says:

    For a few years after I retired, I worked as a police volunteer. We were not armed, with guns at least, and did stuff that the PD needed doing that didn’t require a sworn officer. We were also way more trained than what seems to be the norm with Neighborhood Watch. There was an academy and ongoing training with the PD. We were also under command and control of the PD when on duty. We did a lot of traffic control for parades and accidents but also did patrol, acting as eyes and ears for the cops. Training emphasized that when we saw something problematic we were supposed to back off and vector in the officers. In fact, we were discouraged from making contact except under the supervision of an officer. This was not always possible as we drove vehicles that looked like police cars and wore uniforms that sorta looked like police. So we would get flagged down by citizens who needed police contact. My personal experience with this included mother with a toddler locked out of car, man whose wife had gone missing, man with a gun report at a trailhead and traffic accidents that occurred in front of us. Scariest thing ever was getting an abandoned car towed out of the left lane of the interstate. So we would respond and call the officers in right away. It helped that we had radios and computer terminals so our reports would be seen or heard by the entire on-duty force as well as dispatch. Cops were very supportive and protective of us and would respond rapidly when we made a call. Neighborhood watch seems to me to be a way to do this on the (really) cheap. Since we didn’t get paid we were quite cheap but we did get training and equipment. Seems to me that if police are going to try to engage citizens in policing (a good idea, I think-See quotes by Sir Robert Peel), they need to do some serious thinking about training, equipment and command and control. Acting as an unaffiliated citizen, I follow the gospel of Ayoob.

    • Sebastian says:

      I generally think programs like that are a good idea, but I don’t like the idea of putting citizens in a uniform and not allowing them to be armed in any way. I can understand why they might not want the liability, but if you can control the kind of people who take into the program, you can filter for the kinds of people who will behave rashly.

      • Richard says:

        Yeah, that made me and some of the other volunteers nervous as well. Most of us were CCW holders and carried much of the time when not doing the work. We did have batons and OC and the training and were scheduled to get Tasers when the budget allowed. In this we were like animal control and parking enforcement which are well established non-sworn roles in law enforcement agencies. The big confidence builder was the radio and the support of the sworn officers. The uniform risk you cite would be a dis-qualifier for me doing this in many communities but I did feel OK, if cautious about it there. We did talk about it a lot. And like I said, the scariest stuff was traffic.

  7. Dann in Ohio says:

    In Ohio, when you sign the affidavit that is the Application for an Ohio License to Carry a Concealed Handgun… you are signing that it is for the defense of you and/or a family member…

    My family and I live far from the city… and we are our own first responders… we are well prepared for trouble… but we still avoid it like the plaque… and would prefer to retreat than engage if the option is safely available…

    “I’d rather be judged by twelve than carried by six” is a cliche’… Zimmerman has already been judged by the media and millions of others.. and will likely be judged by twelve (criminal), then by twelve again (civil), then by any future employer, neighbor, or other entity… his family will be broke and he will probably never have ample employment again…

    The best defensive weapon you will ever have available to you is not in your hand, but between your ears…

    Dann in Ohio

    • harp1034 says:

      In Fla. he will judged by six. 12 only when it is capital murder. I think he will be indicted for 2nd degree murder in hope he will take a plea deal for manslaughter.

  8. ecurb says:

    I’ve always been a supporter of keeping an eye on your community and making your presence known. The best way to do that is jogging or walking the dog, and giving everyone you meet a smile and nod.
    To the neighbors it says “hello”. To those with a guilty conscience, it says “we’re watching you: leave”.
    Playing cop because they wouldn’t let you on the force is not the way to do it.

  9. SDN says:

    Sorry, but all I’m seeing here is “only cops should be trusted with weapons.” Thanks for making Bloomberg’s argument.

    • Sebastian says:

      Where did I say that?

      • SDN says:

        confronting suspicious people is something that’s really best left to people who wear a badge and a uniform.

        That would be there, but the article and your comments are pretty much of a piece.

        • Sebastian says:

          And where in there does it say that only cops should be trusted with weapons? I’m saying it’s best not to go play cop.

          Ask George Zimmerman if he still thinks confronting suspicious people is a good idea.

          • Richard says:

            And plus the OP was about citizen engagement with police forces, not about whether citizens should be armed. There is a difference in being armed for self defense vs being armed under color of authority. I am with Sebastian on this one. Plus see everything Masaad Ayoob has ever written. Anyone who chooses to go armed should read all the Ayoob stuff. It is important unless you have a great need to be a test case.

          • SDN says:

            “Ask George Zimmerman if he still thinks confronting suspicious people is a good idea.”

            Yeah, being concerned about your neighbors as much as yourself is such a pain. Far better not to get involved.

            I don’t want to hear the term “sheepdog” associated with any of you.

            • Sebastian says:

              To me, being concerned about your neighbors necessarily means doing what you can to avoid having to shoot them. If Zimmerman had actually witnessed Martin committing a crime, that would be an entirely different ball of wax, but he didn’t. He confronted him based on mere suspicion, for walking down the street acting funny. The call to police was appropriate. I don’t think pursuing the kid was a wise move.

  10. Weer'd Beard says:

    Tardiness, out walking in the rain at dusk, problem with his family enough that they shipped him 200+ miles north for a week, and Zimmerman’s observation that he was acting really weird, especially when he walked over to his truck in the 911 call. Further Martin was on top of Zimmerman’s chest and beating him at the time of his death, which is more consistent with an attack, rather than an attempt to flee an attacker.

    Pure speculation, but its a very common issue, and as Occam says its the simplest solution, that Martin might have been doing drugs, which would have made his behavior so irrational.

    • Jake says:

      it’s very difficult for me to see what else could have driven his suspicion.

      Tardiness, out walking in the rain at dusk, problem with his family enough that they shipped him 200+ miles north for a week, and Zimmerman’s observation that he was acting really weird, especially when he walked over to his truck in the 911 call.

      Add in the recent burglaries in the neighborhood, with reports that the perpetrators were young black males, and Martin being a young black male that Zimmerman perceived as “acting weird”, and I can see why he might have reasonably been suspicious.

      I have to agree with Zimmerman’s friend on one point. “It was a perfect storm.”

    • Harold says:

      Interestingly enough, according to the AP, the family has confirmed through a spokesman that the suspension was drug related:

      Family: pot linked to Trayvon Martin suspension

      (AP) – 1 hour ago

      SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — A family spokesman says slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was suspended from school last month for having a baggie that contained marijuana residue in his book bag.

      Spokesman Ryan Julison says Martin’s parents believe the suspension has nothing to do with his killing Feb. 26 by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman….

      HT the Instapundit. As his fellow blogger and law professor of the Legal Insurrection blog pointed out, Zimmerman said Martin’s behavior was like he was on drugs; from the previously linked to in a past topic transcript of his call to the police provided by Mother Jones (!!!):

      Dispatcher: Sanford Police Department. …

      Zimmerman: Hey we’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there’s a real suspicious guy, uh, [near] Retreat View Circle, um, the best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

      [ IDing Martin. ]

      Zimmerman: […] He’s [unintelligible], he was just staring…

      Dispatcher: OK, he’s just walking around the area…

      Zimmerman: …looking at all the houses.

      The last line is what got me wondering if Martin was having trouble backtracking from the convenience store. If he was intoxicated by pot or whatever he’d have even more trouble I’d guess (don’t know, never tried it).

  11. Jon says:

    “I think the real problem in this case, and which makes it such a power keg, is the fact that Zimmerman had no objective reason to believe Treyvon was suspicious, and even if he did, confronting suspicious people is something that’s really best left to people who wear a badge and a uniform.”

    Someone walking and talking on a hands free set look just like crazy drunk people.
    They speak to the air, gesture for no reason, stare off into space.

    Look at how Zimmerman described his behavior on the call transcript.
    https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/326700-full-transcript-zimmerman.html

    And I will point out again, for what had to be the hundredth time in the last few days;

    There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Zimmerman ‘confronted’ Martin.

    • Harold says:

      And Zimmerman’s more detailed account, which the police found credible, is consistent with Bolo242’s time-line, etc., says that it was Martin who “confronted” him as he was on his way back to his truck. If you believe that, it doesn’t sound like they got very close to each other prior to that.

  12. NUGUN says:

    Here I will raise a fact. One can be non-racist, but greatly prejudice to a personality type. Case in point, I went to a black church for five years. 1/2 the women I dated were black. However, when I see certain black males acting in a set fashion and wearing certain styles of clothes I beware.

    Is that racist. Nope. It’s not a fear over race but rather past experiences which have shown me to be a target of such groups.

    So I think it’s possible for Zimmerman not to be a racist but be extremely prejudice to the gang banger/street urchin type of person (be they black, white, Hispanic or asian). An something may have triggered that.

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