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July 20, 2013

Vigilantism Killed Trayvon Martin

By Daniel Vasey

The saddest and scariest aspect of the Zimmerman verdict is that it greenlights the vigilantism than stand-your-ground laws are already encouraging. I've experienced neighborhood crime -- every night. There are better ways to address it than going out armed and taking unilateral action.


Let me offer my two cents on the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman. My one special qualification is that I've taken part in a watch in a neighborhood far more crime-ridden than Zimmerman's Twin Lakes. They had seven or eight break-ins among 260 units? Not so bad.

   I lived four years in a Third World country, in a fenced neighborhood under siege, where steel bars guarded windows, where I had reinforced the doors of our house and took several parts of our car inside at night to prevent its being stolen. Despite the many precautions, the house was burgled once, and another time I picked broken glass off my little daughter, who went on sleeping after a thrown rock shattered the window by her bed.  

   As break-ins became more frequent, we chipped in and hired night guards to walk along the chain-link fence that surrounded the neighborhood. We took shifts with the patrols just in case they had friends on the other side.

   We were not vigilantes. If we saw trouble, we alerted the neighbors and called the police. Never did we follow anyone, even though we often saw real threats. If we had followed, there would have been trouble and possibly deaths. We dialogued with people in the nearby settlement where most of the would-be burglars appeared to live. We did not carry guns. Our efforts did not eliminate crime, but did reduce it.

   The watch group in Mr. Zimmerman's neighborhood has similar policies, but he was on his own that night. Acting on instinct he decided that Trayvon Martin was looking around too much and walking the wrong path. Whether or not race played a part, there is something very wrong in his assertion to a police dispatcher, made with reference to Martin, "These a**holes they always get away."

   With no good reason Zimmerman was convinced, wrongly and tragically as it turns out, that Martin was a criminal and only George Zimmerman could head off trouble.


Florida's Stand Your Ground Law
Florida's Stand Your Ground Law
(Image by The Eyes Of New York)
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Florida's Stand Your Ground Law by The Eyes Of New York
The enemy is vigilantism, the spread of the idea that Americans should take unilateral and violent action in protecting themselves and their families. Crime is down, few Americans will ever experience terrorism, but more citizens are going out armed every year. Laws are encouraging the trend by passing stand-your-ground laws. Zimmerman believed he could do the job of protecting better than the police.

   Despite what Zimmerman's backers claim, Florida's law has everything to do with his going free. Zimmerman's side argued self-defense, but without SYG, self-defense absolves the threatened person only if he or she had no opportunity to retreat. Zimmerman did the opposite.

    SYG laws are extensions of castle laws, only now any armed person takes a portable castle with them. In Florida they can take risks and enjoy the same legal protection that police have. While police have to pursue suspects, the George Zimmermans of this world do not. The police have training, the George Zimmermans of this world do not.

   African-Americans should not be out in the streets over the Zimmerman verdict, everyone should be, not out of solidarity, but to protest laws that reinforce the miasma of hate and fear spreading across America.

Submitters Bio:
Dan Vasey is a home brewer and reformed academic, living in Australia and retired from teaching after stints in Colorado, Papua New Guinea and Iowa. An anthropologist and human ecologist, his research specialty has been population and agriculture. Published works include An Ecological History of Agriculture: 10,000 BC – A.D. 10,000 and scholarly articles on indigenous agriculture in Oceania and on Icelandic population history. Recently he has been an editor and writer for the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability. Construction of his website on alternative futures is behind schedule.