Letter to Editor
Tuesday, 08 May 2012 02:29
By Adam Dennis and Terrance Nunes
Antigua St john's - We are currently in the eye of the storm surrounding the controversial shooting of Trayvon Martin by self-described neighborhood watch participant George Zimmerman. All the pundits have voiced their views and gotten their time on the news.
There has been talk of racism, excessive use of force, police negligence... all the rich stuff that gives those who want to be seen in the press an opportunity to do so while the tragedy and what happened remains.
But in our view as neighborhood watch advocates, one question has not been pursued with enough vigor and that is "How much did the traditional way we run neighborhood watches contribute to the tragedy?"
This is a tough question for watch advocates since it digs at the very thing we do... but it is necessary when we consider the risks of doing such work in terms of injury to self or others and legal codes that do not adequately reflect the nuances of self-protection within the context of neighborhood watch
In our group, we have people who have run and participated in neighborhood watches for over 20 years in both Antigua and the United States giving us some experience to reflect on this issue.
In both Antigua and the US, neighborhood watches are run the same way... they are started by well intentioned people who want to protect their families, friends, homes and neighborhoods from rising crime rates that the police and politicians seem unable to address effectively.
They are not typically trained in law enforcement, violence management, non-violent conflict resolution, or the responsible handling of firearms... and their relationship with the police department is informal at best.
Why is this so? Many neighborhood watches play a powerful role in limiting crime in their neighborhoods. Participants walk the streets and often are the first to arrive at a potential or real crime scene.
In some cases, a group's "informal" relationship with the police entails intelligence gathering and the pursuit of suspects that lead to arrests and eventual convictions.
What would have happened had George Zimmerman been required to get formal training in conflict resolution from the local police... or had been required to be screened on firearm use?
Would this have given Mr. Zimmerman an opportunity to develop some skills that would have avoided conflict rather than promoted it, or for the police to identify a man that could be a danger to others rather than a benefit to the community?
Those questions will never be answered, but what we can do is answer the question that was asked at the beginning of this article and address the flaw in our current neighborhood watch strategy. We can end our ad hoc approach to watching our neighborhoods and get watch members formally trained, so we reduce the likelihood of a tragedy rather than leave what might happen up to fate.
As we've indicated in past articles, at the Cedar Valley Neighborhood Watch, we believe that Antigua would be well served to setup a system where those who participate in neighborhood watches are trained as auxiliary local constables.
This is largely provided for already and would help the police formally establish a broad intelligence network to fight crime at the local level, get people trained so we reduce the likelihood of a George Zimmerman incident, and give legal rights to participants when they legitimately have to protect themselves, their homes, and their neighbors.
Such a move might be seen as revolutionary to some, but for others it would represent a step in the right direction toward empowering neighborhoods in fighting crime.
Adam Dennis and Terrance Nunes
Co-Chairs, Cedar Valley Neighborhood Watch