Vig­i­lante or a dili­gent neigh­bor?

Neigh­bor­hood watch cap­tain in­volved in un­armed teen’s death

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY MIKE SCH­NEI­DER

SAN­FORD, FLA. | Ge­orge Zim­mer­man once took crim­i­nal jus­tice classes at the com­mu­nity col­lege and was prac­ti­cally a one-man neigh­bor­hood watch in his part of town, call­ing po­lice close to 50 times over the past eight years to re­port such things as slow­mov­ing ve­hi­cles, strangers loi­ter­ing in the neigh­bor­hood and open garages.

Now peo­ple are won­der­ing whether Mr. Zim­mer­man, 28, is an earnest if not over-zeal­ous young man who was just look­ing out for his neigh­bor­hood or a faux cop who tried to take jus­tice into his own hands.

He has been at the cen­ter of a grow­ing furor over vig­i­lan­tism, self-de­fense and racial pro­fil­ing since he fa­tally shot an un­armed black teenager who was walk­ing through his neigh­bor­hood Feb. 26 car­ry­ing only a bag of Skit­tles and an iced tea.

Mr. Zim­mer­man, a light-skinned His­panic, has claimed self-de­fense in the slay­ing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and has not been charged; but many black lead­ers are de­mand­ing his ar­rest, and state and fed­eral au­thor­i­ties are in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

At­tor­neys for Trayvon’s par­ents say Mr. Zim­mer­man is a “loose can­non.”

“He’s a wannabe po­lice of­fi­cer,” lawyer Ben­jamin Crump said. “Why did he have a gun?”

But some neigh­bors wel­comed his vig­i­lance, at least be­fore the shoot­ing.

Sa­man­tha Leigh Hamil­ton, an auto deal­er­ship em­ployee who has lived on Mr. Zim­mer­man’s street for about a year, said she once left her garage door up and Mr. Zim­mer­man no­ticed it while walk­ing his dog. He no­ti­fied an­other neigh­bor, who let her know.

“The only im­pres­sion I have of Ge­orge Zim­mer­man is a good one,” she said Wed­nes­day.

Ms. Hamil­ton said an­other neigh­bor, a black woman, would reg­u­larly in­form Mr. Zim­mer­man when she was out of town so he could keep an eye on her place.

Ms. Hamil­ton said that when she moved into the mid­dle-class, racially mixed, gated com­mu­nity of about 250 iden­ti­cal town houses, the black neigh­bor told her, “Hey, if you need any­thing, you picked a re­ally good area, since Ge­orge is part of our neigh­bor­hood watch.”

Mr. Zim­mer­man, who was cap­tain of the neigh­bor­hood watch and li­censed to carry a gun, made 46 calls to po­lice since 2004, ac­cord­ing to depart­ment records.

In one po­lice-call re­port, the dis­patcher noted that Mr. Zim­mer­man was call­ing about a ve­hi­cle “driv­ing real slow, look­ing at all the other ve­hi­cles in the com­plex and blast­ing mu­sic.” In an­other call from Au­gust, Mr. Zim­mer­man re­ported on two black male teens in the neigh­bor­hood, whom he con­sid­ered sus­pi­cious.

A po­lice spokesman in San­ford did not re­turn calls for com­ment.

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