Near-Tragedies in Civillian Police Work
Two short stories:
Sometime in my late 20s I was up late at my brother’s apartment with some friends. We were having an impromptu band practice and enjoying a few beers. We heard a noise outside and when we poked our heads out we saw someone sitting in my sister-in-law’s car in the parking lot. Without a word five large white guys were tearing out the door and in hot pursuit of the would-be thief. We caught up with him about 100 yards later. The first pursuer hit him with a low tackle. My brother got him in a headlock and dragged him to the ground. I dropped a knee on his back and then we dog-piled onto him. Luckily the man went limp at this point so we just held him there. My brother called 911 from his cell and we held the guy until the police showed up. I should also mention the man we caught was black.
Last summer I happened to look out the front window of my house just a little after dark and saw a car at the end of my street. The car was driving in slow circles and obviously looked a little suspicious. After five minutes of this the car stopped circling and drove slowly back down my street and then parked in the middle of the median, headlights shining on my neighbor’s house. At this point I decided to go outside and watch a little more closely. I went to the bedroom and grabbed the phone, a flashlight and my pistol. Then I sat on the front porch and waited. After about 10 minutes of observing, my neighbor’s daughter came out of the house, jumped in the car and they left. The driver, probably in his mid-teens, was just waiting for his girlfriend and acting like a jackass with his car. He was also black.
Tod Kelly’s post about the Travon Martin saw some traffic this weekend and the conversation still continues. I wanted to relate these stories to share one person’s perspective on the matter. What I recognize now is that in both cases I was only one or two bad decisions away from finding myself in the same situation as the shooter in the Martin case.
In the first story the thief stopped resisting when he saw he was hopelessly outnumbered. But what if he hadn’t? We were hopped up on adrenalin and Budwesier. He could have easily gotten a severe beating or worse. None of us are violent guys by nature but when you feel violated it is easy for things to get out of hand. Then we would have had to explain to the police why we assaulted or killed an unarmed man who was only trying to steal a CD player.
In the second instance I think about what might have happened if the driver of the car had gotten out and maybe crept around the side of the house to knock on his girlfriend’s window (something I did myself at his age). I probably would have told my wife to call the police and then went over to investigate. I would have been nervous and scared, having never confronted someone in this scenario alone. One wrong move and he might have gotten shot for simply being a dumb kid.
While the facts are still murky about the Travon Martin case, What seems apparent is that Zimmerman made a critical lapse in judgement by going beyond the recommend ‘observe and report’ methodology of most neighborhood watch groups. He set himself up for the situation he now finds himself in. That is his cross to bear. Perhaps it will be revealed that Martin also made critical mistakes in judgement based on his actions. This is less certain but I wait to learn more.
On the flip side, I have serious misgivings about potential federal overreach in this case. There seems to be a very real indication that if Florida doesn’t act Mr.Zimmerman may be charged with a hate crime. The basis for this is past 911 calls about black youths and his use of the word ‘coon’ on the 911 call before the Martin shooting. In my mind the linkage is tenuous at best. If I had shot my neighbor’s boyfriend on that night last summer I could see a similar scenario where someone mentions that I laughed at or told an off-color joke on a camping trip. Or they dig up an unfortunate picture from 15 years ago where I was at a Halloween party and a stupid S.O.B showed up in a klan outfit. Lastly they might uncover the story from my brother’s house and suggest I was suspicious of blacks from that night forward.
So this is complicated and I don’t know what lessons are learned from my own near-brushes with a similar situation. I just know that I am sympathetic to all of the parties based on the facts as I know them today. I am also once again disgusted by the spectacle that an American tragedy has become. I wish I could say it was surprising but it is simply the norm in our modern discourse.