This is a picture of a young man, Trayvon Martin, who by all things that are right, should be alive and well today.
One night in 2012, Trayvon was walking home, and 70 yards from his door he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a man who was dedicated to protecting the residents, including Trayvon, of the neighbourhood. Zimmerman was found Not Guilty under Florida State's "Stand your Ground Law."
I believe that both the Neighbourhood Watch idea, and the "Stand Your Ground" law are fundamentally good. This law is designed to assist you in a case of a fight or flight situation, where you choose to fight. The problem with it is that it requires at least one independent witness to say who the aggressor was. In the case before us, only two people were involved, and one is dead.
Only Zimmerman can tell us a version of what happened, but the reason so many people are angry is that he just isn't believed, nor does his story ring true, but no-one is able to prove otherwise.
However, there are some facts upon which we can rely: the Neighbourhood Watch program, as the name implies, is someting that allows the ordinary citizen to use our eyes and ears only, to assist law enforcement. It does not give the citizen any special powers at all. So, if a person is detected in the process of committing a crime and the citizen phsyically detains that person, the citizen may be charged with assault and false arrest.
Trayvon was returning to the home in which he was staying when Zimmerman intercepted him. Had Zimmerman simply observed Trayvon without approaching him or saying anything to him, Trayvon would have been alive today and we would have nothing to talk about.
That, in my opinion, is the key.
Consider what happened to me, a black man, in a community in Spain.
I had an invitation to meet with a woman at her home in the community of Quesada. I arrived and was in the process of looking for her house when I was confronted by two men, and suddenly ten more men arrived, surrounding me. One man, took me by the upper left arm in a very tight grip.
They asked, sarcastically, if they could help me. I said I was an invited guest of the occupant of house number 28B, "Who are you?" "I just told you, I'm an invited guest, but I don't mind adding that I'm a reporter, and I'm very uncomfortable to be jacked up by you guys who seem like a lynch mob. What's more, this idiot who is holding my arm is assaulting me. Take your bloody hands off me!"
Everybody took a major step backwards. The unspoken question was, "What have we done?"
Whenever people come together and form some sort of private grouping, the stranger is always unwelcome. In that neighbourhood, which was all-white and mostly British, I, as a black man was seen as a very unwelcome intruder and the attitude was to give me a very rough heave-ho. But, I was a reporter with a legitimate reason for being there, and they, the neighbourhood watch group had interferred and asaulted me. I could have brought the entire group to court, but instead I sat them down and gave them a stern lecture.
In my own country I was the person who had successfully introduced Neighbourhood Watch, and with strict guidelines, there never has been an incident that has caused complaint or death to someone.
George Zimmerman is the son of a magistrate, and apparently had an ambition to one day become a judgeun. He considered that he was a good guy. It is not normal for a person to go on patrol around the neighbourhood. Residents simply go about their normal everyday business, but simply keeping a heightened awareness of activities around them. In this regard Zimmerman, acting as a patrolman, was a zealot.