Vigilante or a diligent neighbor?
Neighborhood watch captain involved in unarmed teen’s death
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.