George Zimmerman and Civic Engagement

I think it’s come strongly into evidence by now that George Zimmerman was a man out for his neighborhood. This is an admirable instinct, but it’s obviously one that that has lead him to the ruin of his life. This begs a very serious question, for those who go about with firearms strapped to their persons. What duty do you owe to those around you?

I am drawn to the idea of a neighborhood banding together, to do what they can to fight crime, and the tyranny of the criminal element. That is a good and healthy thing. But banding together is a key element; you agree to watch each other’s backs, and come to the aid of the other when things in the neighborhood start to get real. You and all your neighbors should very much understand what this means.

This is an impossible standard in most communities, and to a large degree, we should feel fortunate for that fact, because most communities in the United States are so unbelievably safe by the standard of human history, that we just don’t practically think much about such matters. Regardless of ideals, crime in Suburban America is low enough that people feel it can justifiably be a matter left to professional agents of the state.

Sanford seems to be a community that’s seen some hard times since the collapse of the housing bubble. It’s been hit quite hard by the economy as well, and the crime profile has changed. George Zimmerman seems to have risen, apparently largely on his own ambition, to a leadership role as a community watchman. Community members seem to have appreciated this, but ultimately, what did it get him? And where were his fellow neighbors, which all had an interest the same community security, when things got very real for George Zimmerman?

When it comes to community protection, one has to be committed to collective community protection, where everyone is expected to pitch in and contribute, and watch each other’s backs. If you’re the lone sheepdog, it’s time to start re-examining your role, and thinking about whether it might be wise to live in a better neighborhood, with better people. It is not ideal, and is certainly far from the vision of community protection our founders thought they were encouraging with the 2nd Amendment, but is the world we live in today.

In that world, I don’t blame anyone who takes the attitude of protecting “me and mine.” General policing is really best left to people paid and trained to do it, with citizen intervention being left to life and death circumstances. That is, for better or worse, the world we have created; a world so safe by historical standards, most people don’t think about their own safety or that of their community, on a day by day basis, even in a community hit hard by the economy.  I don’t know whether that’s something to be celebrated, or perhaps to be lamented. I suspect a little of both, since safety tends to breed complacency, and complacency is the enemy, over the long run, of safety.

What do you think?

29 thoughts on “George Zimmerman and Civic Engagement”

  1. I live in on of the nicest areas, of the nicest neighborhood in miles; because of that, when people go looking to rob someone they hit my neighborhood. (2 break-in groups stopped in the last 4 years, each hit about 30 houses.)

    My theory is 2 fold…

    If my family isn’t home, I don’t care what you take, but… My home is going to be a harder target than my neighbors, rob them!

    Don’t make the mistake of coming in to my occupied house though.

  2. I am one who’d say take some Biblical advice and go out in pairs. A lot safer. More deterrent. Someone is there to watch your back. And be a witness. Had Zimmerman had a buddy with him. Things would have been very different.

    1. To be fair Zimmerman wasn’t “On Duty” that night, he was out to go shopping when he spotted Martin “Acting Weird” and “Looks like he’s on drugs”, and called the non-emergency number.

      Given that Zimmerman allegedly didn’t even draw his gun until he was on his back getting his head bashed in, I doubt he thought he was in a dangerous situation until it was too late, and instead thought it was just a drugged up kid possibly doing property damage.

      Somebody once said to me, “Never draw your gun for anybody you wouldn’t go to prison for.”

      In my Neighborhood that only goes for my family, and my neighbors directly facing my house. I suspect they’d do the same for me.

      That being said, Zimmerman was calling in what he thought was a potential robbery, and was attempting to keep Martin in sight as he ran. That’s just as much selfish behavior as altruistic, because for all he knew, Martin could be smashing his windows while he was buying milk.

      Knowing what he knew at the time, I can’t blame him at all, and I’d have probably done the same.

      BalloonGoesUp points out that many of us won’t use deadly force to protect our property….but I’m really happy to get home at the end of the day to find my stuff un-molested, and I’m willing to do a little leg work as needed to ensure that continues to happen.

      I’m not interested in shooting somebody so I don’t have to file an insurance claim….but that was never what this story was about.

      If Zimmerman had stayed in his car this never would have happened. If Martin was one of the robbers and vandals that had been causing havoc in the neighborhood, his call to the police would have been for nothing as the cops would have shown up, and not having the caller to point out the suspect, they would have just headed back to the barn.

  3. I think that I will only use my firearm to protect ‘me and mine’ because when it comes right down to it, the people that I protect should I NOT mind my own business will do little to help when the public mob comes calling in the aftermath.

  4. Good points on the role of people in their local community. I have an odd set of experiences with it.

    I live in a small-town rural area today with lots of good people. Our homes are at the end of a dead-end road and really nobody has moved in a long while. Most of these folks built their houses right after I did, back in 2000. Still, few of us really know each other. We know names and faces and chat, but after inviting some neighbors over for a party once they were nice but not heard from since. Same with he other neighbors to each other (it’s not just us).

    Contrast this with our urban LA/Redondo Beach home we had a few years ago (I was “Dual-Coasted” for 5-6 years for work). Wedged between a popular beach and (it seems) a more popular road (Pacific Coast Highway), it was a hell of a lot more dense than our current Camp Hayseed. Lots of people have told me they couldn’t live in such a place because of urban areas are too cold, but there were easily 200 people living on my street and I knew a lot of them. They would stop by just to chat and they’d check out my home when I was not there – even if I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving, because they knew when people were traveling. We had parties that would start at one house and literally traverse 4 more before the night was over. The mayor and local fire dept. would stop by our block parties. Etc.

    Both neighborhoods had the same age groups (younger families) but the urban hood had a lot more going for it when it came to community. When people talk about missing “small town values”, I tell them I miss LA/Redondo Beach. If the SHTF, I’d rather have them at my back then the people I have now.

    So community exists where people care enough to actually get to know each other. In my life, that has almost always been stronger in urban areas (I grew up urban, as well). I used to think it was me not fitting in, but my wife grew up in rural WI and says the same. So do my current neighbors, ironically lamenting on the lack of community while avoiding it all the same.

    I left the garage door open a few times in LA with lights on – overnight – and full of nice-to-steal gear. Nothing happened to it even though thieves targeted other nearby hoods. Local cops told me the simple reason: our neighborhood was known by all to be tight. Contrast that with our current rural home, where any under-construction structure is sure to be robbed. Nobody will look out for it and the thieves know it. The only thing keeping them from robbing occupied houses is the knowledge that everyone here has guns at home.

    But guns are a sore replacement for community.

    I’d intervene in the old LA hood (and there were 1-2 times where I did), but here I’d have to give pause for the same reasons some of you bring up. Call it “Situational Community”, tribalism or whatever you want, but I am not going to put my ass on the line for people who wouldn’t do the same for me. Freaking sad, it is.

    1. When I’ve thought about “End-of-the-World” scenarios, I’ve wondered about the merits and perils of “heading for the hills”. On the one hand, you might want to do that to avoid roving gangs, and to have sufficient land to farm. On the other hand, you have less people around to trade with and to support each other.

      Of course, there are certainly small-town communities that look out for each other, and city blocks where everyone is a stranger. Thus, the most important thing is figuring out how to be neighborly with each other! While you and I can technically reach out to other people, though, being neighborly is a two-way street: if no one is going to take you up on being neighborly, reaching out isn’t going to do much good.

  5. It is not so much that the police are paid and trained, it is that they are usually protected when things go south as often happens. I am sure that everyone here can think of situations when police officers were protected too much or not enough but generally, the law works this way. Therefore, they have greater confidence intervening in inherently ambiguous situations. Training about use of force law which police receive is highly useful but there is no ban on non-police receiving such training.

    1. As smart as “Use of Force” training sounds to people like us, there is no value in getting it. The legal protection from the law afforded to police is not because of their training, but because they are part of the system that enforces the law.

      Pretty safe to say getting “Cop Training” and not being a sworn officer would be contorted by lawyers to say you were a wannabee and therefore more apt to get into a fracas involving violence. It’s the old – but unfair – argument that a guy who loads his own SD ammo is secretly lying in wait for a chance to kill someone.

      I ain’t arguing it should be this way, but by now it’s pretty clear that this is the world we live in.

      1. Entirely safe to say since Zimmerman was in college studying that subject (forgot how far he got, but more than a normal year’s worth) and that’s been trotted out by many including some on our side to sat that he is a “wannabee”.

        I’d say if you’re getting your degrees (associate and then bachelors, if I remember his path correctly) you’re showing quite a bit more seriousness than a “wannabee”.

      2. There are different use of force rules for sworn officer and non-sworn people. Not as different as one might think but different. Prudent for the non-officer to know the rules. But we agree that the main difference is the qualified immunity of the officer. At least, I think that is what you were saying. It definitely is what I was.

  6. George Zimmerman seems to have risen, apparently largely on his own ambition, to a leadership role as a community watchman. Community members seem to have appreciated this, but ultimately, what did it get him? And where were his fellow neighbors, which all had an interest the same community security, when things got very real for George Zimmerman?

    I don’t see how you can say this.

    This case had two early phases:

    The normal one, where everything seems to have happened correctly enough and the local prosecutor declined to indict (consider ignoring the investigator who wanted to, since Zimmerman had gotten on the wrong side of the department due to that 2010 beating incident he made a big fuss about). This includes many of his “community members” calling 911 when they heard it getting violent (no Kitty Genovese syndrome here) and giving supporting testimony (not a place where everyone clams up when the police arrive).

    Then the family lawyered and PRed up and with the all too eager help of the media established the ugly narrative that we’re all too familiar with, which was very quickly followed by explicit calls for violence against Zimmerman. The press at the time didn’t seem to be interested in the other side of the story (that came later, but even then people speaking in his defense did so anonymously) and publicly speaking out would have only resulted in you and yours also having to flee your house. Heck, remember that couple who were misidentified as his parents having to flee their home?

    Just what are you asking his “community members” to have done? I mean, it’s one thing for people like us to use our handguns when we might suffer a nasty fate at the hands of the police-judicial complex and media, it’s another to ask people to take actions where they know they and their’s will without question suffer a nasty, potentially lethal fate.

    1. You make a convincing argument. My thought was that, even anonymously, very few people in that community seemed to be willing to speak up or really do anything for Zimmerman, or before the incident, their own community.

      1. But the only way they can safely “speak up” anonymously is through the media, right? As “John” did right after the shooting. After the PR blitzkrieg, how long was it before any of the media was interested in the other side of the story? Remember this is the same media (local as well as national, and not just NBC examples of both) that were editing the “911” audio to make it look like Zimmerman was racist. Heck, look at how the usual suspects are furiously spinning the current data dump.

        And I wouldn’t be surprised if you looked back and did find some “community members” speaking anonymously on his behalf …. it’s just that, like Fast and Furious, that wasn’t news, that wouldn’t have gotten amplified by the rest of the media like every bit of the Official Narrative was.

        Also, how do you know what other “community members” were doing before the incident? He was the Captain of the Neighborhood Watch the homeowners association established, with signs and all (established at his instigation, in response to the recent very disturbing crimes in the community). Do you think anyone else who might have been a part of it would have come forward after the PR blitzkrieg and admitted they were a part of this modern SS?

        Rather than vague generalities, could you posit some specific actions that any sane individual might have done after it became world-wide news?

  7. The way I see it, my neighbors have the same right as I do to go get themselves a gun and a carry permit. It’s none of my concern if they decide not to take advantage of the same opportunity I was afforded.

    I will call the police if I see someone getting attacked, but I will continue to avoid confrontation wherever me and mine aren’t involved.

  8. I feel there’s a biblical answer for those so inclined.

    For every other aspect in life, looking out for, and serving others (even strangers) is the moral thing to do. I see no reason why helping to protect a vulnerable “neighbor” is really distinct from any other charity.

    Just as with charity, you give just until it hurts – same might apply to security. Obviously for financial giving, you can have a quantitative threshold of when to stop (when it hurts). That’s tricky to measure and decide in self defense.

    I’m not going to knowingly take a bullet for a neighbor, leaving my kids orphans and my wife a widow. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t try to break up a fight if circumstances permitted.

  9. “What duty do you owe to those around you?”

    0. Everybody else around me has the opportunity to buy a gun and get a permit. That they did not is not my problem.

  10. From the Reuters profile, it sounds like Zimmerman’s neighbors were mostly aware and supportive of his efforts to keep an eye on things. I don’t think that’s where he went wrong.

    He went wrong by getting out of his car. I know that Martin most likely attacked him, not the other way ’round, but he should have anticipated that, and since he was on the phone with 911 and had police heading for the scene, he should have called it a day and just continued to shadow Martin from the street.

    And that’s what makes me nervous about neighborhood watches. Police go through a hell of a lot of training to thread the needle in this kind of situation, and they still get it wrong many times, where ‘getting it wrong’ means innocent people being seriously injured or killed, or a criminal getting away with it because the initial investigation wasn’t done properly.

    So now take some untrained and over-enthusiastic neighbors and put them out on the streets, maybe with guns, and what do you expect to happen? Also think about who’s really going to volunteer for that, and what kind of attitude they might take. I’m not saying it can’t work, and certainly not saying it should be outlawed, but there’s a lot that can go wrong, and that isn’t obvious until something like the Martin shooting happens.

    1. I’m not really big on neighborhood watches questioning or tailing suspicious people, that’s for someone, who as a fellow blogger noted, comes into the situation dripping with qualified immunity. My point was more that looking after a neighborhood has to really be a community affair, rather than an affair of a lone actor. When professional police are fairly available, I think individual intervention is best limited to emergency situations, which a suspicious person is not.

      1. I think if everyone in a neighborhood watch had your attitude, there would never be a problem. But realistically, just like HOA architectural committees you’re going to get a high percentage of bullies, busybodies or hotheads who feel it’s their mission to get into everyone’s business. Which is probably partly the issue of “we’ve got an organization, we should be _doing stuff_!”. Maybe neighborhood watches should be instantiated only where there’s an actual crime problem, and then disbanded when the problem subsides.

  11. The use of my firearm is limited only to family members and VERY close friends. I’ll give nonlethal assistance to my neighbors and strangers, but I’m not racking up expensive legal bills by using my firearm when my life or family isn’t at stake. A bit callous for sure, but I have no interest in having a victim I just “saved” turn around and be a prosecutor’s witness against me. Screw that. They should have exercised their RKBA. I’ll have to live with the consequences, but at least I will do so as a free man.

  12. General policing is really best left to people paid and trained to do it, with citizen intervention being left to life and death circumstances.

    General police powers belong to all citizens. Doesn’t it make sense that general policing be done by the folks who have the general police powers?

  13. “It is not ideal, and is certainly far from the vision of community protection our founders thought they were encouraging with the 2nd Amendment, but is the world we live in today.”

    And with that, you have given up any other position than the Brady crowd’s, where the rights to self-defense and to bear arms are only for collectives such as “the militia” or “the cops”.

    1. That’s ridiculous. I did not make any such assertion. The right that was recognized was an individual one, but community self-defense was among the reasons our founders thought it important to protect. There’s no denying that. It’s just a fact.

      And that fact does not mean that they did not also mean to protect individual self-defense, or preserve the militia system. There’s ample evidence that they believe all those things.

  14. Personally I believe that every situation is different, I of course will protect me and mine. I will likely stay out of everything else unless I see something where I believe an innocent life is about to end if I do not act. Admittedly the chances of that are very, very long.

    I am not a police officer and do not have the training and massive legal backing that law enforcement does. So I will be a good witness, and try stay clear, and hope that I never have to use my weapon.

  15. I’m definitely of the belief that when good people fail to act, crime prospers. You can’t know when you see something if its going to turn in to being serious or not, so you should investigate. That doesn’t mean inserting yourself, but that does mean at least observing.

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