| NEWS of the Day - March 22, 2012
|on some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood activist across the country
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular point of view ...
We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
From the Washington Times
Was Florida shooter a vigilante or diligent neighbor?
Neighborhood watch captain called into question after teenager's death
by Mike Schneider
SANFORD, Fla. — George Zimmerman once took criminal justice classes at the community college and was practically a one-man neighborhood watch in his gated part of town, calling police close to 50 times over the past eight years to report such things as slow-driving vehicles, strangers loitering in the neighborhood and open garages.
Now, suddenly, people are wondering if the 28-year-old Zimmerman is an earnest if somewhat zealous young man who was just looking out for his neighborhood, or a wannabe cop who tried to take justice into his own hands.
He has been at the center of a growing furor over vigilantism, self-defense and racial profiling since he shot and killed an unarmed black teenager who was walking through his neighborhood Feb. 26 carrying only a bag of Skittles and an iced tea.
Zimmerman, a light-skinned Hispanic, has claimed self-defense in the slaying of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and has not been charged, but many black leaders are demanding his arrest, and state and federal authorities are investigating. Florida's Stand Your Ground law on self-defense gives people wide latitude to use deadly force.
Attorneys for Martin's parents say Zimmerman is a "loose cannon."
"He's a wannabe police officer," lawyer Benjamin Crump said. "Why did he have a gun?"
But some neighbors welcomed his vigilance, at least before the shooting.
Samantha Leigh Hamilton, an auto-dealership employee who has lived on Zimmerman's street for about a year, said that she once left her garage door up and Zimmerman noticed it while out walking his dog. He notified another neighbor, who let Hamilton know.
"The only impression I have of George Zimmerman is a good one," Hamilton said Wednesday.
Hamilton said another neighbor, a black woman, would regularly inform Zimmerman when she was out of town so that he could keep an eye on her place. Hamilton said that when she moved into the middle-class, racially mixed community of about 250 identical townhouses, the black neighbor told her, "Hey, if you need anything, you picked a really good area, since George is part of our neighborhood watch."
Zimmerman, who was captain of the neighborhood watch and licensed to carry a gun, made 46 calls to police since 2004, according to department records.
In one police call report, the dispatcher noted that Zimmerman was calling about a vehicle "driving real slow, looking at all the other vehicles in the complex and blasting music." In another call from last August, Zimmerman reported on two black male teens in the neighborhood. He considered them suspicious.
A police spokesman in Sanford, a city of 53,000 people outside Orlando that is 57 percent white and 30 percent black, did not return calls for comment about Zimmerman's repeated reports.
Sanford city commissioners on Wednesday voted 3-2 to express "no confidence" in Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. over the handling of the fatal shooting. The commission can't fire Lee, however, because the police chief reports to the city manager.
Hamilton said there had been several break-ins in the past year, including one three doors away in which burglars took a TV and laptops.
"When I hear about him calling the police constantly, it kind of makes sense to me because we had so many break-ins recently," she said.
The homeowners association's February newsletter said that Sanford police had beefed up patrols in the neighborhood and that officers on bicycles were making random checks of front yards and backyards. It was not clear how big the neighborhood watch was, but Zimmerman was the dominant force.
"If you've been the victim of a crime within the community, after calling the police, please contact our captain, George Zimmerman ... so we can be aware and help address the issue with other residents," the newsletter said. It added that the neighborhood watch group was looking for more participants at its monthly meetings.
USAonWatch, the national neighborhood watch organization, said Zimmerman's watch had never registered with the group. A vice president of the homeowners association didn't return a call Wednesday.
According to police, Zimmerman spotted Martin walking through the community on the teen's way back from a convenience store. The teenager was visiting his father's fiancée, who lived in the gated community. Zimmerman told a police dispatcher that Martin had his hand at his waistband and had something in his hand.
"This guy looks like he is up to no good — he is on drugs or something," Zimmerman said.
The dispatcher advised Zimmerman not to follow Martin. Moments later, neighbors bombarded 911 with reports of a struggle between the men and the sound of a gunshot. When police officers arrived, Martin was lifeless, face down on the ground, while Zimmerman was bleeding from his head and his back was covered in grass, as if he had been on the ground, the police report said.
Sanford police issued a statement Wednesday defending their decision not to arrest Zimmerman. They said that when officers arrived, he claimed self-defense, "which at the time was supported by physical evidence and testimony."
The police chief said Zimmerman claimed he was attacked by Martin after he had given up his chase and was returning to his truck.
In a letter to the Orlando Sentinel, Zimmerman's father said his son wasn't a racist. Zimmerman's mother is Hispanic. "He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever," Robert Zimmerman wrote.
Zimmerman moved with his parents from Manassas, Va., to Florida about a decade ago. He lived with his parents in nearby Lake Mary for several years before moving to the Retreat at Twin Lakes, records show. He lives in the gated community with his wife, Shellie, a licensed cosmetologist, but is now in hiding because of death threats.
Zimmerman had taken classes at the local community college, but his work history was spotty. He worked at a pressure washing business and then at CarMax, the national used-car dealer, but left in 2008, according to court records. It was not immediately clear what he did for CarMax or what he has been doing since then.
In 2005, Zimmerman was charged with resisting arrest with violence. State alcohol agents said Zimmerman pushed them while they were arresting a friend of his during an underage drinking operation at a bar. Zimmerman avoided a conviction by going into a pretrial program that is offered to people with no prior arrests.
Neighbor Raffie Gaffar said he is troubled by the fact that Zimmerman patrolled the neighborhood with a gun. Gaffar, a registered nurse, said he had never met Zimmerman and lived in a different section of the development.
"That is crazy. That is totally crazy," Gaffar said. "Why does he have to carry a gun? Something is totally wrong with that picture."
From Google News
Trayvon Martin case: Should Sanford police chief be fired?
Late Wednesday, Sanford city commissioners passed a motion of "no confidence" in Police Chief Bill Lee Jr., who has defended his department for not arresting George Zimmerman after he shot Trayvon Martin, a black teenager.
by Barbara Liston
Florida politicians and civil rights leaders joined calls for the firing of a police chief in the case of a neighborhood watch captain who killed an unarmed black teenager, as new details emerged on Wednesday about police handling of the investigation.
"The reality is that people in this community have lost faith in the police chief's ability to keep their children safe," Benjamin Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), told Reuters.
Florida congresswoman Frederica Wilson, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, echoed the call in an appearance on CNN. "Not only would I like to see it happen, but I'm joining with them to make sure it happens," Wilson said.
Speaking in the US House of Representatives, Florida congresswoman Corrine Brown criticized the police investigation of the shooter, George Zimmerman, who remains free almost a month after gunning down 17-year-old Trayvon Martin outside a gated community in Sanford, near Orlando.
"No drug tests. No alcohol tests. No lie detector tests. It's just his word that he felt threatened, so therefore he shot to kill. That is unacceptable," said Brown, who is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Martin's killing has sparked widespread outrage since the release of 911 emergency tapes last week.
Late on Wednesday, city commissioners in Sanford passed a motion of "no confidence" in Police Chief Bill Lee Jr., who has said the department acted properly in not arresting Zimmerman after the shooting.
The commission voted 3-2 in favor of the motion, according to Commissioner Patty Mahany. The commission, however, cannot fire Lee, who reports to Sanford's city manager.
Zimmerman, toting a Kel Tek .9 mm PF9 semi-automatic handgun, spotted Martin walking back to his father's girlfriend's house after the teen bought candy and iced tea at a convenience store on Feb. 26.
Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, called police to report a "suspicious guy," and followed Martin despite the dispatcher's advice not to. Neighbors said they heard a scuffle, cries for help and then a gunshot.
Martin's girlfriend in Miami said she was talking on the cellphone with Martin at the time, and that she heard his running account of being followed and trying to get away from Zimmerman.
A police report made public on Wednesday said Martin's death was originally investigated as a homicide, specifically an "unnecessary killing to prevent an unlawful act."
The report, made by the first two officers to arrive at the scene of the shooting, cited a state law that says someone who unnecessarily kills another person while trying to prevent that person from committing an unlawful act, "shall be deemed guilty of manslaughter."
The report said that when the first officer arrived, Martin was lying "face-down on the ground" with his hands beneath him and that Zimmerman told the officer "that he had shot the subject and he (Zimmerman) was still armed."
The officer said he handcuffed Zimmerman and removed the gun and holster from inside Zimmerman's waistband, and saw that his back was "wet and covered in grass" and that he was "bleeding from the nose and back of his head."
Zimmerman was put in the backseat of a police cruiser, given first aid by paramedics and taken to the police station to be interviewed by investigators.
The first officer at the scene, Timothy Smith, wrote in the report that he did not question Zimmerman at the scene.
But that appeared to be contradicted in a "Dear Citizens" statement posted Wednesday on the city's website by City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr.. The statement expressed the city's "heartfelt sympathies to the Martin family," and provided a series of answers by Lee abou t the case.
In his answers, Lee explained that when police arrived at the scene, Zimmerman "provided a statement claiming he acted in self-defense, which at the time was supported by physical evidence and testimony."
Lee quoted Zimmerman as saying that "he had lost sight of Trayvon and was returning to his truck .... when he says he was attacked by Trayvon."
Lee said that under Florida law police were prohibited from arresting Zimmerman because he said he acted in self-defense.
The police report makes no mention of self-defense nor did it contain any description of Martin's injuries. It said police administered CPR and paramedics tried to revive him but Martin was pronounced dead 13 minutes after the first officer arrived.
Bonaparte said he stood by Lee and called the police investigation "complete and fair." Bonaparte later told CNN he would reserve judgment of the police chief's handling of the case until an independent law enforcement review was conducted.
Lee previously told reporters he had no choice under Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law but to let Zimmerman go free. The 2005 law allows someone in fear of "great bodily harm" to respond with deadly force, ending the duty to retreat if possible to avoid confrontation.
Chris Smith, a black Florida state senator, announced on Wednesday he is drafting new legislation to "drastically" change that law, which he said has increased deaths in the state due to "self-defense" by more than 250 percent. The law originally was promoted by the National Rifle Association, the nation's leading gun rights group, and opposed by many in law enforcement.
"We can't keep turning a blind eye to the number of lives this law has claimed," Smith said in a statement. "'Stand Your Ground' in its present form continues to endanger Floridians by not only giving someone the right to shoot first, but immunity for their actions, whether justified or not."
Organized protests over the case continue to multiply, with three events on Wednesday. Jealous spent a second day in Sanford taking testimony from local residents about past experiences with local police. Those will be turned over to the U.S. Department of Justice, which is reviewing Martin's shooting.
About 60 people protested outside the Orlando state office building where gun permits are issued. The Florida Civil Rights Association's Wesley Leonard urged Florida Governor Rick Scott to issue an executive order rescinding Zimmerman's permit to carry a concealed gun.
Inez Edwards Savage, 52, a parent and a healthcare worker, said she joined the protest after hearing on the news that Zimmerman looked at Martin and instantly labeled him "suspicious."
"Perhaps Mr. Zimmerman shouldn't look at others as a problem, or race as a problem, but look at himself. He's a problem. It's his thinking," Savage said.
In New York City, Martin's parents were among hundreds of people who attended a march in Union Square promoted by a 24-year-old Daniel Maree, a black digital strategist who said he felt that he or his sister could just as easily have been in Martin's place.
Zimmerman's current location is unknown and he has not spoke publicly about the shooting.
Neighborhood watches shouldn't be armed
ALLENTOWN, Pa.— Neighborhood watch groups were designed to be the eyes and ears of police -- passively observing what they see and reporting back to law enforcement -- not to enforce the law themselves.
Most neighborhood watches follow the rules, and confrontations are rare. But after the killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in a Florida gated community, criminal justice experts say police departments and watch groups need to make sure volunteers do not take matters into their own hands.
"First thing: You do not engage. Once you see anything, a suspicious activity, you call the number that the police department has given you," said Chris Tutko, director of the Neighborhood Watch program at the National Sheriffs' Association, which launched the neighborhood watch concept 40 years ago as a response to rising crime.
Tutko said he was flabbergasted to learn about a watch captain's shooting of the 17-year-old Martin last month in Sanford, Fla. Civil rights groups have demanded the arrest of the captain, George Zimmerman, who has said he shot Martin in self-defense. The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation.
Tutko said it's highly unusual, and highly discouraged, for a neighborhood watch to be armed.
"You do not carry a weapon during neighborhood watch," he said flatly. "If you carry a weapon, you're going to pull it."
Tens of thousands of watches have been formed across the United States over the decades. Some patrol gritty urban neighborhoods where volunteers walk a beat; others monitor sparsely populated areas with houses that are miles apart.
Regardless of location, the message from law enforcement is always the same: Do not intervene. Do not try to be a hero. Leave the crime-fighting to the police.
"We don't want to see somebody taking the law into their own hands," said Philadelphia police Sgt. Dennis Rosenbaum.
But the impulse can be strong, especially during a crime wave. In one Philadelphia neighborhood where vandals have been slashing tires for several months, residents are "fed up, frustrated," said Christina Hewitt, 23, whose mother has had her car targeted eight times since November.
Hewitt, who went to a neighborhood watch meeting Tuesday night with other residents and Philadelphia police, said the shooting in Florida was a topic of discussion.
Police, she said, told the residents "that's what they want to prevent."
Violent incidents involving neighborhood watch volunteers are rare but not unheard of. In 2009, two armed neighborhood watch volunteers in Bluffdale, Utah, got into a dispute; one took out his gun and shot the other, paralyzing him.
Background checks can weed out convicted felons and other people who obviously don't belong in neighborhood watches. After that, police departments that work with watch groups, as well as the organizations themselves, have to remain vigilant to make sure that volunteers are doing what they're supposed to.
"It was designed to be an extra set of eyes for the police because they cannot be everywhere all the time. But actually acting on it with vigilantism is completely askew to what the idea of neighborhood watch is," said Kenneth J. Novak, a criminal justice professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who has studied community policing and neighborhood watches.
Volunteers should resist the urge to intervene, Tutko said, even if they happen to see a crime in progress, because they lack training and may become victims themselves. He tells trainees that "you do what you can, when you can, as much as you can, but if you cross the line, everybody loses."
Scholars say that while watch groups primarily act as deterrents and feed information to the police, they may provide more intangible benefits, too, like improving neighborhood cohesion and giving residents a sense of security.
The authors of a 2008 Justice Department review concluded there was "some evidence that Neighborhood Watch can be effective in reducing crime," but said that while some programs work as intended, others work less well or not at all.
Often started as a response to persistent crime, they can be a challenge to keep alive once the initial threat fades -- either the bad guy is caught or goes elsewhere -- and residents turn their attention away.
"Most neighborhood watches don't last very long. They usually galvanize themselves around an incident, or a series of similar incidents, and then the momentum dies out relatively quickly. That's why it's not really an effective crime prevention strategy on a wide scale," Novak said.
Allentown, an eastern Pennsylvania city of about 100,000, has managed to keep its neighborhood watch system going since the mid-1970s, with more than 20 individual groups and hundreds of volunteers.
They are not armed, and there has never been an incident, said Assistant Police Chief Joe Hanna.
"We tell them that we are the police, that if you see a crime in progress, get on the phone and call 911. We'll be there promptly, and let us handle the dangerous side of it," Hanna said. "The last thing we want is for them to put themselves in harm's way" or hurt someone else.