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George Zimmerman murder trial stirs crime watch debate

George Zimmerman murder trial stirs crime watch debate

By Derek Joy

The George Zimmerman second degree murder trial for killing 17-year-old Miami Gardens resident Trayvon Martin highlights three of many ironic twists of fate.

First, Martin, a Black American was shot and killed by Zimmerman in Black History Month – Feb. 26, 2012.  Secondly, Zimmerman’s trial, following a contentious jury selection, began in June when Juneteenth and Black Music Month are celebrated.

But the real haunting ironic twist of fate is the impact that Zimmerman’s action of pursuing, confronting and ultimately shooting an unarmed teenager who was not committing a crime, will have on neighborhood crime watch organizations.

“When I was with the city of Miami Police Department we had held classes for participants in neighborhood crime watch groups,” said retired Major Frank Christmas.

“We instructed participants not to follow or confront suspected criminals.  We just wanted them to call us and report what was happening, the location and any descriptions.”

That was not the case when Zimmerman followed Martin, called the police and was told by the police dispatcher “we don’t need you to do that.”

Instead, Zimmerman pursued Martin, who was returning from a nearby convenience store to his father’s residence in the gated community of the Retreat Twin Lakes in Sanford, Fla.

An altercation ensued.  Martin was shot and killed by Zimmerman, who claimed self defense, despite the fact that he had not reported Martin as having committed any crime.

“No.  We don’t have a neighborhood crime watch group where I live,” said Mary Sims McCall, a Miami native who, since 1974, has lived in Winter Springs, some five miles from where Martin was killed.

“I haven’t heard anything about this will affect neighborhood crime watch groups.  You just hear about five White women and one Hispanic woman on the jury. That’s probably because Seminole County is only 10-percent Black and has about two women to every one man.”

However, the case has at least resulted in a closer screening of prospective neighborhood crime watch participants, according to city of Miami Police Department Public Information Office Commander Major Delrish Moss.

“We do have classes when citizens get involved in our citizens on patrol,” said Moss.  “In fact, I don’t know if Zimmerman completed a class for neighborhood crime watch volunteers.

“Now, we screen volunteers more closely.  We don want frustrated, wanna be police officers pursuing and confronting people.  Police go through extensive training and retraining to handle situations in engaging and confronting suspects.  We sometimes get injured and killed.

“We train our volunteers to be helpful, be our eyes and ears.  Police officers are paid to take the risks,” Moss added.

Theresa Smith Brown, a friend and neighbor of Martin’s mother, said her neighborhood near the city of Miami’s Liberty City Police Station, doesn’t have a neighborhood crime watch group anymore.

“No,” she replied, when asked about her neighborhood crime watch group.  “Not since Cracker George (late city of Miami Police Major George Adams) died.  He had the neighborhood locked down when he was alive.”

Interestingly enough, there was no legally constituted neighborhood crime organization at the Retreat of Twin Lakes where Zimmerman lived and reportedly acted as a neighborhood watch volunteer.

Even more interesting is the fact that Zimmerman had never been discouraged from engaging in acts beyond reporting suspicious people or activities.  Nor had he been encouraged to complete crime watch training in cooperation with the Sanford Police Department.

Consequently, neighborhood crime organizations will forever be influenced by what Zimmerman did and the outcome of his trial.

 

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    Carma Lynn Henry Westside Gazette Newspaper 545 N.W. 7th Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311 Office: (954) 525-1489 Fax: (954) 525-1861

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