I hail from Texas, but I have lived in a variety of Los Angeles neighborhoods for the past 35 years. Some were nice and some were crime filled and absolutely dangerous. And I have watched as some of the neighborhoods in L.A. have changed from nice to dangerous in the span of a generation. One of them was mine.
First a large apartment complex in our neighborhood went Section 8. Then came the drugs, and the graffiti, and the crime.
My neighbors were now calling the police with every sighting of criminal activity. The cops in our previously quiet neighborhood were unprepared to cope with the new crime trends. Many of our neighbors sold their houses after being victimized. They were frightened and moved to a "nice" neighborhood.
The law enforcement agency in our neighborhood became apathetic. They were slow to respond and ineffective upon arrival. They were commonly far more put out by the caller than the crime.
My neighbors became frightened and stopped calling the police with their observations. I continued calling the police while witnessing several felonies in progress. I always identified myself as a fellow officer. The police never apprehended the criminals I identified. Before long, the police began treating me with the same patronizing behavior my neighbors told me about regarding their experiences. I knew the police in my area could do a better job.
Crime flourished and I grew frustrated. I started calling the police and then following the criminals. I interrupted many felonies in progress.
Felons don't like being challenged, and I fought with some of the suspects. I owned my home and loved my neighborhood. I wanted the word to get out that we would not be easy victims. A few of my liberal neighbors bought guns. Some of my neighbors reluctantly supported my efforts.
I continued intervening in the crimes occurring on my street. I got into a shooting with armed men who were stealing my wife's car. I tied the suspects up and the police arrived some time later. One of the suspects was also wanted for murder.
My shooting was investigated. It was justified, but the police agency I worked for hated it. I was getting involved in off-duty incidents and exposing them to civil liability. They were furious with me. Funny thing, I became a far bigger issue than the criminals. I was told I would eventually be fired if I continued getting involved in crimes I was witnessing. I reluctantly moved to a nicer neighborhood.
Like you I work in the realm of human violence. I have responded to more than a thousand armed incidents. I have even been present when some shootings were still happening. I have been shot at on over a dozen occasions, and I have been in five shootings. I have killed people on and off duty while protecting myself and others. I have been investigated and exonerated for my actions in my shootings. I have also investigated dozens of officer-involved shootings as a detective. And I have investigated several incidents where armed civilians used guns to protect themselves.
I have learned many things. Some people like guns and some don't. Some do bad things with guns and some accomplish positive tasks with guns that could not be accomplished with any other tool. Some even buy guns when they are morally opposed to them. Most gun owners when threatened, will never use them in their own defense. The reasons are commonly emotional paralysis, legal fears, and proximity limitations.
Some people defend themselves while others simply won't. Some wait for the police to protect them and others believe their need for defense is too immediate for any option other than immediate countermeasures. Both camps typically judge each other harshly. I believe the appropriate response is dictated by each situation.
There are many unpleasant truths regarding safety, violence, using guns for protection, quality policing, and public involvement. These issues are intertwined.
Politicians and law enforcement administrators often credit law enforcement with the safety enjoyed in nicer neighborhoods. We don't deserve the credit. Safe neighborhoods are not made so by quality policing. Truth be known, there is an inverse relationship which exists regarding quality policing and neighborhood safety.
Your sharpest and most capable officers always work in, or were trained in, high crime areas. They had a high level of violent incidents to learn from and made observational arrests without radio calls to guide them toward offenders. This baptism of fire is how they got good at spotting criminals and stopping them. They see more violence and they are far more likely to be shot at and to shoot back. These officers typically commute long distances for the excitement and privilege of impacting crime and violence. But their hard work is not rewarded with the creation of a nice and safe neighborhood. Once crime sets in, it is like cancer. The hard working officers in violent areas are there to perform figurative and literal triage. Unfortunately, once crime and violence sets in, the bleeding seldom stops.
Officers policing nicer and safer neighborhoods commonly concentrate on traffic issues and answering calls for service. They often specialize in appearance issues rather than impacting crime.
Safe neighborhoods are made so because of a high level of care, involvement, and investment on the part of the home and business owners. These populations tend to notice people who are not familiar and they watch them. Some times they follow the strangers they see and call the police with seemingly silly concerns. This deters crime and violence.
People in dangerous neighborhoods know the price of getting directly involved in situations, so they don't. They won't even tell law enforcement what they saw or heard out of safety concerns and a misguided sense of loyalty to crooks over cops. And crime flourishes in their neighborhoods. It is that simple.
Residents in nice neighborhoods are very different. They don't commonly see violence. Their fear level is lower as a result. They show a high level of involvement and they take more risks in protecting their area.
This brings me to the Zimmerman-Martin shooting. Carrying a gun is a big step for anyone. Most civilized Americans don't want to hurt another person. I am sure this goes for Mr. Zimmerman as well. By all accounts, he followed someone he believed to be a criminal. He then shot him during a subsequent violent encounter. I don't know any more about the details of the incident, but everyone seems comfortable with that basic scenario.
The U.S. media will exploit any use of a gun because they are philosophically against anyone who is armed. This includes the military and the police. It should not surprise anyone that the media hates armed citizens.
Bottom line, I expect a slant from the media. After all, facts are often uninteresting. I expect racial sensitivity when it likely plays no part in an incident. This is often one of my largest hurdles when presenting facts to a jury. I expect televised statements of condemnation from famous people who have no clue what happened. They probably aren't as famous as they would like to be. I expect demonstrations from groups of uninformed or militant people who have been demonstrating against my job in law enforcement and the military for as long as I can remember.
What bothers me is the absolute lack of critical thinking demonstrated by intelligent people regarding this case. Zimmerman may have been attacked. He may have shot Martin while defending himself. I don't know because I don't have all the facts. What bothers me is a public and political demand for conviction when they know only as much about this case as me. And what bothers me most is the immediate condemnation of the simple act of watching and following a suspected danger to your community. Decent and intelligent people are saying how foolish and "criminal" it is to take this level of interest in a suspicious situation. I would be willing to bet these same people have likely been assisted or even saved by a Zimmerman at some time in their life.
These people haven't thought this case through. They believe because someone died, the assailant must always be bad. I believe violence without context cannot be judged.
These people who are so willing to crucify Zimmerman should examine their philosophy. Maybe they should move to Compton, Watts, or any number of communities where the cutting-edge thinkers are way ahead of them. These residents really practice what they preach: They don't ever get involved.
To those who condemn public involvement, I have some advice. Sell your guns. Their ownership goes against your morals. Then move your families to an area where you can put your philosophy to the test. You know you won't. You won't because you are insipid little cowards who typically pay people braver than yourselves to take risks for you.
Oprah often asks, "What do you know for sure?" I know I am not Trayvon. I guess I am more like Zimmerman. I have always cared enough about my neighborhood to become involved.