Sunday, April 1, 2012

Weighing in on the Trayvon Martin tragedy

Weighing in on the Trayvon Martin case…

I am the grandparent of a 17 year old teen.  He is white, over 6 feet tall,  and he lives in a neighborhood which is, to put it mildly, not diverse.  He occasionally walks around wearing a hoodie.  I doubt sincerely that some self appointed neighborhood watch vigilante would ever have followed him to see what bad he would be contemplating doing.   To deny that racism was an element in the actions of George  Zimmerman is to deny that  many   racially profile a black face wearing a  hoodie, a disguise favored  by many a  bank or convenience store holdup perpetrator.

Thanks to the Florida Stand Your Ground law,  in spite of what  former Governor Jeb Bush believed, that it was to allow homeowners to use weapons to defend their  own homes and lives if they  felt threatened, there has been unleashed untrained, unscreened, unauthorized  neighborhood vigilantes to do what Zimmerman did.  It is a fact, documented in the 911 call,  Zimmerman ignored the orders of the police  and continued following Trayvon Martin with the inevitable confrontation, documented almost to the fatal end by eye witnesses, the 911 recordings,  and Martin’s own cell phone conversation with his girl friend.   Both Zimmerman and Martin felt threatened. Both could have invoked the Stand Your Ground Law  broadly interpreted, but Zimmerman had the gun that killed the teen.

The police themselves gave Zimmerman a pass from arrest because they believed him and that it was his word against a black kid with  no other witnesses, though they made no effort to find witnesses.  Their role in this is certainly worthy of  scrutiny.  They  tested Martin alone  for drugs, again a profiling assumption that a black kid with a hood was up to no good and was the threatening party that the Florida law protected.

I have served as a homeowners association president and I am now the chair of the executive committee condo association. I have spent significant time in a gated community in southwestern Florida within the past year.  I also once  headed a district attorneys’ investigative unit and I can claim familiarity with working with police and enforcement of criminal law.  

The neighborhood of which I was the association president was a large, not very diverse suburban type and it had been plagued by an infamous, illusive  burglar,  dubbed the Southmoor Cat Burglar by the press.  We found homeowners leaving doors unlocked and garage doors left open, only assisting the criminal.  We ourselves were victims when he jimmied open a basement window.  Alert police grabbed him in a nearby shopping center after his long career.

Instead of arming a well meaning   resident or even having a unarmed resident patrol our neighborhood,  we hired a guard service and increased assessments to cover it.  In the Florida gated community, a uniformed guard service patrolled the area, screened the visitors, and made frequent swings through the local streets.  An armed vigilante was not designated.  Neighborhood watch means exactly that: a watch.  It does not mean cruising around with a powerful pistol.  Even supervised and trained law enforcers have their problems with racial profiling, but an amateur with an itchy trigger finger is even more of a potential  problem.

In addition to the investigation by those outside the police department and to reform/retrain the Sanford  police department, what should  be done is to rewrite or overturn such poorly written laws as the Florida one. Revisions should  exclude from its protection   action outside of a person’s own home, just as Jeb Bush thought it originally intended . Uniformed and trained guards should be hired to patrol neighborhoods.  Anyone with any color  walking through a neighborhood that does not reflect his race should not wear a hoodie.  It is a sad commentary on our times, but that is  reality.

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