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

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman
Peter Lee
Making Sense of China’s Stock Market Meltdown
Paul Craig Roberts
Wall Street and the Matrix: Where is Neo When We Need Him?
Kerry Emanuel
The Real Lesson of Katrina: the Worst is Yet to Come
Dave Lindorff
Why Wall Street Reporting is a Joke
Pepe Escobar
Brave (Miserable) New Normal World
Ramzy Baroud
‘Islamic State’ Pretence and the Upcoming Wars in Libya
Paul Edwards
Capitalism Delenda Est
Norman Pollack
The Political Culture of Rape in America: Further Thoughts on the St. Paul’s School Case
Stephen Lendman
The Monied Interests That Run America
Pedro Aibéo
Democratizing Finance (With Bitcoin?)
Alfredo Acedo
Climate Change and Capitalism: Challenges of the COP21 Paris and Climate Movements
August 26, 2015
Paul Street
Overworked and Out of Time: a Democracy Issue
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Behind the Market Crash: the Smoke and Mirrors of Corporate Buybacks
David Mihalyfy
Reform Higher Ed? Treat Badmin Like Bankers
Ruth Hopkins
Police Shootings in Indian Country: Justice or Else!
Gary Leupp
ISIL Advances While Its Foes Cannot Unite
Fred Gardner
The Psychiatrist’s Bible: Defining ‘Marijuana Use Disorder’
Yorgos Mitralias
The Catastrophic International Consequences of the Capitulation of Syriza and the Criminal Responsibility of Mr. Tsipras
Walter Brasch
Katrina: a 10-Year Review
Jim Connolly
Seven Questions and Seven Answers: a Sandernista Makes Reasonable Predictions About the 2016 Contest for the Democratic Presidential Nomination
Pedro Aibéo
Selling Austerity to Finland
Franklin Lamb
Heritage Destruction in Syria is a War Crime
Binoy Kampmark
Tourism’s Disaster Temptation: the Case of Nepal
Jeffrey D. Pugh
Trial by Fire for Ecuador’s President Correa
Vacy Vlanza
A Palestinian Novel Par Excellence
Alvaro Huerta
Confessions of an ‘Anchor Baby’: Open Letter to President Donald Trump
August 25, 2015
Gary Leupp
Why Donald Trump is So Scary
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Thug at the UN
Steve Early
How “Brother” Bernie is Making Labor’s Day
Carl Finamore
An Affordable Housing Victory: High-End San Francisco Development Implodes
Henry Giroux – Chuck Mertz
The Spectacle of American Violence and the Cure for Donald Trump
Robert Eisinger
Trivializing Anti-Semitism
Brian Platt
It is Time We Discussed Abolishing the Police
Alexander Reid Ross
Trump the Fascist
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Mohammed Allan at the Door of the Israeli Supreme Court
Ted Rall
The United States of Stupidity
Heather Gray
A Message to American Mothers About Sex in the Military
Jo Leinen – Andreas Bummel
How to Democratize the UN
Lawrence Davidson
The Iran Agreement and Israel’s Claim to Speak for the Jews
Mark Hand
A Well Pad Next to Every 3-Car Garage: Suburban Sprawl Collides with Texas Frack Jobs
John Laforge
U.S. Bows Out After Plowshares Conviction is Vacated: Appeals Court Ill-Informed on Nuclear Overkill
Norman Pollack
Gender Freedom and Sexual Liberation: The St. Paul’s School Case
Kathy Kelly
Let It Shine