Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Neighborhood Watch Shows Policing Failure
Speech to the Grants Pass City Council, 4/4/12
The shooting of Travon Martin in Sanford, Florida is a complete tragedy, with both George Zimmerman and Martin being both victim and perpetrator, and both being perfectly understandable, but wrong. Zimmerman, self-appointed Neighborhood Watch volunteer, was suspicious of Martin walking in his gated community, possibly because he was a strange young black man wearing a hoody, and reported him to police. Despite instructions not to follow, he actually tried to chase Martin down, by his own report. Martin, likely frightened or enraged by this person chasing him down, doubled back, confronted Zimmerman, and beat him to the point where he thought he had to kill Martin or be killed, and he shot him.
Both were wrong; Zimmerman for chasing Martin, and Martin for attacking Zimmerman. But Zimmerman obviously felt so unsafe in that gated community that he felt that he had to be the cop on the beat, and Martin was really tired of being an automatic suspect for busybodies like Zimmerman. What caused these men to conflict was a failure of police to keep basic order.
The fact that neighbors feel that they have to watch means that they don’t feel safe, likely because police are not making people clean up their properties. Litter, weeds, and other signs of disorder and neglect make respectable people feel insecure and criminals feel safe in their evil, because police obviously aren’t keeping order. Being a gated community doesn’t necessarily keep out property slobs, and peer pressure isn’t what it used to be.
Neighborhood watches are a form of vigilantism, which always occurs where there is a breakdown in basic order. It is easy for wannabe cops to go too far and needlessly offend otherwise inoffensive people.
Police encourage neighborhood watches because they believe that they are too busy running from call to call and doing traffic enforcement to walk neighborhoods. But if they would walk neighborhoods, nagging the slobs to clean up their properties and talking to people on the street, they’d be much more in touch with their communities and know more about what is going on.
For instance, they might have known about the young man visiting his father, and probably not bothered him at all. But if a walking uniformed officer had stopped Mr. Martin to talk, the young man would probably have taken less offense than with the neighborhood busybody. And the residents, walking in a clean neighborhood in a clean city, would feel safe enough that they wouldn’t feel the need for Neighborhood Watches.