What do we do when confronted by suspicious activity?
On Nov. 2, 19-year-old Renisha McBride, who was rip-roaring drunk, crashed her car into a parked vehicle in Detroit. Disoriented, she wandered off from the crash scene, eventually winding up on the front porch of Theodore Wafer in Dearborn Heights after 3 a.m., knocking on his screen door. Wafer, who is white, opened his front door and shot the unarmed McBride, who was African-American, in the face with his shotgun through the locked screen door, killing her.
Back on Feb. 26, 2012, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, FL, saw Trayvon Martin, 17, walking in his gated subdivision. There had been some recent burglaries and Martin, a black teenager wearing a hoodie, looked suspicious to Zimmerman, who dialed 911 and called the police. The police dispatcher said that officers would be sent and told Zimmerman, who is half-Hispanic and half-white, not to pursue Martin, who was unarmed and returning to his father’s fiancee’s home from a trip to a store.
But Zimmerman, who carried a 9 mm handgun, ignored the dispatcher’s instructions and went after Martin anyway. What happened in the confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin will probably never be known, but it ended with Zimmerman shooting Martin to death.
Whatever the legal ramifications may be, whether racial profiling was involved or however “stand your ground” laws in Michigan and Florida may apply, the killings of both McBride and Martin were completely avoidable. When McBride knocked on his screen door, Wafer needn’t have opened his front door. He should instead have called 911 and let the Dearborn Heights Police deal with her. When the Sanford Police dispatcher told Zimmerman not to pursue Martin, he should have followed these instructions and let the police deal with Martin.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has charged Wafer with second degree murder and manslaughter. Wafer claims that his shotgun discharged accidentally.
In July, Zimmerman was acquitted of second degree murder and manslaughter charges. While Florida’s “stand your ground” law wasn’t brought up at trial, the issue was raised by the judge in the jury instructions and was cited by some of the jurors in their decision to acquit.
Acquitted or not, there are many who regard Zimmerman as a jerk, and his behavior since the trial bears this out. Last week, he was charged with aggravated assault after allegedly breaking a table with a shotgun in the home of girlfriend Samantha Scheibe and then pointing the shotgun at her. A police search of Scheibe’s home found five weapons and 106 rounds of ammunition that belonged to Zimmerman. Scheibe claimed that Zimmerman previously tried to choke her and talked about suicide.
Zimmerman’s wife Shellie filed for divorce and alleged that he threatened her. She also expressed doubts about his innocence in the Martin case. Zimmerman was twice stopped for speeding, and may face federal civil rights charges over Martin’s death.
The behavior of Wafer and Zimmerman stands in stark contrast to the 38 residents of Queens, NY who in 1964 either witnessed the murder of Kitty Genovese or heard her screams for help as Winston Moseley stabbed her to death, yet never so much as called the police. One of them said, “I didn’t want to get involved.”
Both extremes were wrong. If we witness a crime being committed or suspicious behavior, we shouldn’t look the other way. On the other hand, we have no business playing vigilante, either. We should instead just call 911 and leave it to the professionals.