Only a fool would get into the lion cage at the circus without proper training. Likewise, most of us wouldn't juggle chainsaws, get shot from a cannon or ride a unicycle onto the high wire. The majority of us are sufficiently risk-averse (i.e. not stupid enough) to attempt these feats without proper training.
Only a fool would get into the lion cage at the circus without proper training. Likewise, most of us wouldn’t juggle chainsaws, get shot from a cannon or ride a unicycle onto the high wire. The majority of us are sufficiently risk-averse (i.e. not stupid enough) to attempt these feats without proper training.
Even so, there appears to be a disconnect between that logic and the drive that led to Trayvon Martin’s recent death, allegedly at the hands of George Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch member in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense and has not been arrested. Protesters have seized on Zimmerman’s call with a 911 operator, in which he describes Martin’s hoodie and dubs him “real suspicious,” as racial profiling.
With good reason, the incident has sparked an uproar with allegations of racial motives searing across social media. We concur that outrage is warranted. Even so, we have a criminal justice process. If investigators determine there is sufficient cause, Zimmerman will be charged. Beyond this, Zimmerman’s alleged actions sully the good name and hard work of Neighborhood Watch and its hundreds of thousands of members that help communities all over the United States.
While one could certainly focus on the more unseemly, possible prejudices involved here, there is a more fundamental issue at stake. Zimmerman, clad in the unfettered zeal of his watchman duties, did something that no one — no one — outside of law enforcement should ever do: allegedly pursued and confronted someone he thought was dangerous.
In case it isn’t obvious, a “security” T-shirt, a radio and a gun no more makes one an agent of the law than a white coat and scalpel makes one a surgeon. Having access to the tools of a trade is a universe away from having the training, knowledge, experience and discretion necessary to use them.
Police officers go through months of academy training, followed by months of in-service training, followed by years of refresher and continuing education training to do what they do. Moreover, they are an organized body with rules, procedures, best practices, internal and external review — and the ability to quickly summon backup.
Because Zimmerman and most other amateur security people lack the experience of an average officer, they may be too quick to sense lethal threat. What might be a “5” on Zimmerman’s threat meter might only be a “2” on that of an experienced cop. Cops are trained to quickly summon alternatives, to use non-lethal (and non-injurious) means if at all possible. Furthermore, police officers only get to be police officers after having undergone rigorous psychological screening to make certain they have the proper aptitude, bearing and stability for the job.
We are all too quick to dismiss alternative endings to this story or to reflect on their probable weight. What if Martin were proved to be completely and utterly innocent of all wrong-doing and he were approached by Zimmerman? Following the alternate storyline a bit further, what if Martin saw Zimmerman’s gun, concluded he was about to be killed and somehow managed to wrench the gun from Zimmerman and kill him? Would we then see headlines of “Hooded Delinquent Slays Security Guard?”
In either instance, allowing armed amateurs to prowl the city streets under the guise of being a low-rent Batman is just about as dumb a thing as we’ve ever permitted in civil society. Whatever comeuppance Zimmerman may have in store, it’s time to end amateur hour in neighborhood security.