It seems that whether you stand your ground on the right or the left of the Trayvon Martin slaying, the court of public opinion continues to spawn a rush to judgment, such as Congress going to the extreme by considering tighter gun laws and clamping down on neighborhood watch groups.
Such deflections and distractions diminish the heart and soul of the Martin case, which, in case you have forgotten, is to see that justice is served on behalf of a teenager who lost his life at the hands of a gunman and of the gunman, George Zimmerman, who, as far as we know, had every legal right to own the 9 mm weapon that mortally wounded the unarmed teen.
Of course, police, including those in the District, where handgun rights are being restored, albeit slowly, usually are hesitant for whatever reasons to reveal the history of a handgun, often leaving many questions unanswered.
When did Mr. Zimmerman purchase the weapon? And where?
Had the gun been fired previously? And had Mr. Zimmerman received training on how to use it?
Indeed, the very fact that a member of a neighborhood-watch group was armed is frightening in and of itself — and more so when you consider that members of neighborhood patrols are discouraged from 1) arming themselves and 2) confronting suspicious people.
The National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) states in its neighborhood watch manual: “Patrol members should be trained by law enforcement. It should be emphasized to members that they do not possess police powers and they shall not carry weapons or pursue vehicles. They should also be cautioned to alert police or deputies when encountering strange activity. Members should never confront suspicious persons who could be armed and dangerous.”
To his credit, Mr. Zimmerman did place a 911 call, but then he rushed to judgment and in doing so breached protocol by 1) arming himself, 2) ignoring the sound advice of a 911 dispatcher and 3) pursuing Trayvon as if the boy’s very presence in his neighborhood posed an imminent threat.
The NSA’s manual is far more than a list of do’s and don’ts for keeping you and your neighborhood safe. The guidebook is a valuable instrument in the war against violence and reminds us that while Trayvon’s death is deeply painful, it is equally disturbing and troubling to the Martin and Zimmerman families.
If, in the wake of Trayvon’s shooting, you and members of your community are interested in forming a neighborhood watch program, please read the NSA’s manual, which is available for download (https://www.bja.gov/publications/nsa_nw_manual.pdf) courtesy of the NSA and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.
The killing is a stark reminder that at the end of the day, the result of true justice is a zero-sum game.
The Metropolitan Police Department is holding two additional citywide neighborhood-watch training sessions this month. One will be held April 28 at East Washington Heights Baptist Church on Branch Avenue Southeast, and another is scheduled April 30 at the Bernice Fonteneau Senior Wellness Center on Georgia Avenue Northwest.
Listen, folks, these are important sessions as residents across the city reckon with rashes of neighborhood assaults, robberies, burglaries and thefts, and hate crimes, or maybe your already-established group simply needs a refresher course.
The thing is, many neighborhood patrols know what tools its members should use while on patrol, such as cellphones, cameras, flashlights, whistles and distinguishable clothing, such as orange hats or vests. But in the District, with residents now armed with the right to own handguns, it’s vitally important that we learn or relearn the distinction between peacemaker and vigilante.
Or, in other words, “How Not to Be a George Zimmerman While Keeping Your Neighborhood Safe.”
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.