A shooting in Sanford, Fla. has drawn the attention of President Obama and inspired a “Million Hoodie March” in New York City and Philadelphia last week.
“I was very upset when I heard about it,” said Betty Gray, Oswego Neighborhood Watch Coordinator. “The Neighborhood Watch program is not a vigilante organization.”
Police often instruct local watch participants on their role.
“Police typically attend several Neighborhood Watch meetings and advise them on how to handle disruptions in their neighborhood,” said Sgt. Craig Bateman, member of the Oswego City Police. “Their primary response, always, is to call 911.”
Gray stressed working without weapons.
“All we need is your eyes and ears,” Gray said. “Get plate numbers, car models, descriptions of people. We have a hotline where you can leave tips. There’s no need to get actively involved in a confrontation.”
George Zimmerman, a member of Sanford’s neighborhood watch, shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old high school student, who was unarmed and visiting his father in the gated community Zimmerman lived in. Zimmerman has yet to be charged in the case, and says that he shot in self-defense, according to The New York Times.
Zimmerman called 911 and reported that a suspicious African-American male roaming through his neighborhood. He followed Martin in his car before getting out and confronting the teen. Zimmerman made 46 calls to 911 in the last 14 months, for incidents ranging from open windows to suspicious people, according to The New York Times.
The centerpiece of the case is Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, allows a person who believes that they could be killed or badly hurt to “stand their ground” and protect themselves. Previously, a person being threatened had a duty flee from the situation, if possible.
Learning how to make their homes and property more secure against intrusion and using a rotating patrol of community members as a means of preventing illegal acts is how the system is arranged, according to Oswego’s official neighborhood watch website and the neighborhood watch program page on the National Sheriff’s Association website. The watch also prohibits members from carrying weapons, according to ABC News.
The Florida investigation is still ongoing, with increasing public pressure for an arrest.