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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Incident in a Small Town

Wendy Dorival is the Sanford, Florida police department's volunteer coordinator. Last August, she spoke at the Retreat at Twin Lakes, the gated community where George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman had asked her to speak about setting up a Neighborhood Watch group.

In her PowerPoint presentation, Dorival told the audience, the Neighborhood Watch's role is just that - to watch and report to police. The volunteers’ role, she said, is “being the eyes and ears” for the police, “not the vigilante.” Neighborhood watch volunteers “are not supposed to confront anyone. We get paid to get into harm’s way. You don’t do that. You just call them from the safety of your home or your vehicle.”

She made a point of saying Neighborhood Watch volunteers should never use guns. The National Sheriffs’ Association, the Neighborhood Watch program's national sponsor, leaves no doubt: guns have no place in a watch group. Its manual repeatedly states: “Patrol members do not carry weapons.” There's a reason for that: volunteers lack police authority and police training - they are private citizens.

If I saw a physically larger man stalking me with a gun, I'd be scared, especially if I were unarmed. Mr. 30s, at Starbucks on Sunday (see previous blog) asked, "Why didn't he just call 911? He had a phone with him."

Good question. That was the one aspect of the case that troubled me. After all, I was taught in second grade, always run to Officer Friendly, if I were lost or in trouble. But Officer Friendly isn't always friendly, especially if he's white and you're not.

In Mississippi, two white men kidnapped a 14-year-old black boy, pounded his face into raw meat, shot him in the head, and dumped his broken corpse, with a weight tied around his neck with barbed wire, into the Tallahatchie River. The year was 1955. An all-white jury acquitted them of Emmett Till's murder in about an hour. In a magazine interview, the killers said the black boy had dared to whistle at a white woman... on his way home from a general store to buy a candy bar.

W.E.B. Dubois, a century ago, wrote: "Daily the Negro is coming more and more to look upon law and justice, not as protecting safeguards, but as sources of humiliation and oppression. The laws are made by men who have little interest in him; they are executed by men who have absolutely no motive for treating the black people with courtesy or consideration; and, finally, the accused law-breaker is tried, not by his peers, but too often by men who would rather punish ten innocent Negroes than let one guilty one escape."

In my short story, "Incident In A Small Town", James Michael Brown, an angry young black man, find himself transported from 1956 Alabama to an alien land. I wrote:

"He had assumed they were taking the sensible approach in seeking out the dominant life forms of this land. But what if — when they found the creatures that ruled this planet or dimension or whatever it was — they were hostile? James Michael Brown had learned a long time ago not to run to the white sheriff for help. Who were they running to now?"

Deep down, I knew the answer to Mr. 30s' question. I had even written a story about it. But when he asked me, I couldn't come up with an answer. But then again, I was thinking like a white man. James Michael Brown would have known better.

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