FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Perils of Civilian Policing

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

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
Domenica Ghanem
Is Bush’s Legacy Really Much Different Than Trump’s?
Peter Certo
Let Us Argue Over Dead Presidents
Christopher Brauchli
Concentration Camps From Here to China
ANIS SHIVANI
The Progress of Fascism Over the Last Twenty Years
Steve Klinger
A Requiem for Donald Trump
Al Ronzoni
New Deals, From FDR’s to the Greens’
Gerald Scorse
America’s Rigged Tax Collection System
Louis Proyect
Praying the Gay Away
Rev. Theodore H. Lockhart
A Homily: the Lord Has a Controversy With His People?
David Yearsley
Bush Obsequies
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail