FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Perils of Civilian Policing

by BINOY KAMPMARK

A hundred years of lynching, justifiable homicide.  Same thing.

Protester’s sign, Sanford, Mar 21, 2012

‘We report all suspicious persons and activities to the Sanford Police Department.’  Or at least, that’s the policy of the Neighbourhood Watch program in force in Sanford, Florida scene of the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by his alleged killer George Zimmerman on February 26.  It seems that Zimmerman, as neighbourhood watch captain, had not read the large print on the board, let alone consult his remit. Zimmerman himself claims that, in the violent encounter, he was injured.

The interpretations of the event are numerous, and gathering steam with a hurricane like force.  A pornography of violence is taking shape.  Reporters feel it appropriate to mention that, according to the Sanford police report, five witnesses of the event were ‘white’, with the race of the sixth a mere ‘O’ – other.  David Martosko of the Daily Caller (Mar 27), a rag that has taken a clear dislike of Martin, finds it interesting to discuss the respective size and weight of the protagonists.  ‘Martin’s weight was recorded at 160 pounds.  The report does not list Zimmerman’s weight.’  Martin was ‘six feet tall when he died’ (prior to that he had been, presumably, of a different height) relative to ‘the 5-foot, 9-inch tall Zimmerman’.  Little stress is placed on the fact that Martin was not armed.

In terms of the legal babble involved, police officer Ricardo Ayala, who filed the report, cited the alleged crime as a violation of Florida statute 782.11 – ‘Unnecessary killing to prevent unlawful act.’  At least the law does specify that a person in the process of committing a felony can hardly be justifiably killed when being prevented from completing his act.

Zimmerman, at the very least, would be up for manslaughter, though prosecutors and the police have been resisting trial.  This, in itself, suggests an acceptance of the principle of violent civilian policing.  Better allow a private citizen the pleasure and consequences of shooting a teenager from a particular group, than the police, who are the traditional culprits in the US race wars.

Zimmerman provides a convenient crucifixion, a personalised flashpoint, but the problem lies more broadly with the concept of self-policing and ‘civilian’ defenders.  The fear factory has its workers toiling away to keep the fires going, and the neighbourhood watch scheme yields its noxious fruit.  Individuals like Zimmerman are hot heads at the ready, with murder lurking around the corner.  Despite being told by a police dispatcher not to follow the teen, Zimmerman kept in pursuit.  That is not to suggest that the man is an irredeemable monster, though he may well have proven to be an unstable one.  Zimmerman’s lawyer Craig Sooner has protested about the incomplete picture that is being offered about his client.  Then again, the legal process regarding Zimmerman’s apprehension has been sorely lacking.

Martin’s own past is being trucked through the mud.  He dabbled in graffiti.  He was suspended from school a total of three times before he was shot, as if to say that a regular class attendance is an insurance against a brutal death.  He might have attacked a bus driver (oh, the wonders of scatterbrained Twitter land).  The Miami Herald remarked that the teen had been caught with a ‘burglary tool’, an impossibly vague description centred on a screwdriver.  (He did, the paper also noted, have jewellery in his possession.)

Martin’s killing has done more than anything else to suggest the fundamental problems with the Neighbourhood Watch concept, a vigilante movement of social control that turned all too ugly.  Gated communities produce nervous guards.  ‘Suspicious’ people and activities are bound to be spotted everywhere.  If the inappropriate racial profile pops up, so do the weapons in the name of ‘self-defence’.  In Zimmerman’s own 911 call, Martin was ‘up to no good or he’s on drugs or something.’  If it isn’t one thing, it’s always something. The teen was, in the Zimmermann argot, a ‘coon’, and these types are always up to something.

Vigilante behaviour is a mirror of itself.  The New Black Panther Party has dangled the prospect for summary justice for Zimmerman, offering a $10,000 reward for his capture.  Rev. Jesse Jackson has proclaimed that ‘targeting, arresting, convicting blacks and ultimately killing us is big business’, doing his bit for what the conservative black pastor C. L. Bryant has branded ‘race hustling’.  What such tragic points reveal is that the process has brutalised every participant, ruined the alleged parties, and again underlined in deep, bloodied red, the race problems of the United States.

The nervous white rearguard is being drawn up by Rich Santorum and Newt Gingrich, both keen to attack President Obama on his intervention in the case.  Gingrich was his prickly self on the Sean Hannity radio show: ‘Is the president suggesting if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be OK because it wouldn’t look like him?’  Hardly, though that will not stop some assuming that to be the case.  The gated fences, and the neighbourhood watch captains, will continue to do their worst in the name of reassuring policing.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

May 05, 2016
Andrew Stewart
Green Bernie or Green Party Machine?
Binoy Kampmark
Yuri Gagarin in Space: the Politics of Cosmic Discovery
Hayes Rowan
This Naming of Things
May 04, 2016
Kshama Sawant
It’s Not About Bernie: Why We Can’t Let Our Revolution Die in Philadelphia
Conn Hallinan
Baiting the Bear: Russia and NATO
Joshua Frank
Hanford’s Leaky Nuke Tanks and Sick Workers, A Never-Ending Saga
Paul Craig Roberts
TIPP: Advancing American Imperialism
Ted Rall
Hillary to Bernie Supporters: Don’t Vote for Me!
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton and Wall Street’s Neoliberal War on Latin America
Leslie Scott
The Story of Jill Stein: Putting People, Peace and the Planet Before Profits
Ann Garrison
Building the Greens Into a Mass Party: Interview with Bruce Dixon
Tom Clifford
Crying Rape: Trump’s China-Bashing
Lawrence Davidson
Getting Rid of Bad Examples: Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Brown
Bank of North Dakota Soars Despite Oil Bust: A Blueprint for California?
Nelson Valdes
Is Fidel Castro Outside or Part of Mainstream Thinking? A Selection of Quotes
Jesse Jackson
Don’t Send Flint Down the Drain: Fix It!
Nathan Riley
Help Bernie Keep His Halo
Rivera Sun
Remembering Nonviolent History: Freedom Rides
Clancy Sigal
Rachel and the Isolationists: How Maddow Blew It
Laura Finley
Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”
CJ Hopkins
Coming this Summer … Revenge of the Bride of Sophie’s Choice
May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
Dean Baker
Time for an Accountable Federal Reserve
Ted Rall
Working for US Gov Means Never Saying Sorry
Dave Welsh
Hunger Strikers at Mission Police Station: “Stop the execution of our people”
John Eskow
The Death of Prince and the Death of Lonnie Mack
May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail