George Zimmerman is back in the headlines. His trial is finally underway, and it appears the passion on one side to bury him under the jail is exceeded only by the lack of wit displayed by his defense attorney during opening arguments. While Zimmerman is not the primary subject of this piece, his plight should be a warning beacon to anyone thinking it is a good idea to volunteer to be the neighborhood protector.
OneOldCop thought about Zimmerman several weeks ago when a local radio talk show host was ranting about a tragic situation in North Central Texas. Police officers responding to a residential burglar alarm shot and killed the resident of a nearby home. The details of the incident were not clear at the time, but the host was ranting about the situation. He kept shouting into his microphone, “What are we supposed to do?” He wrapped up each tirade with, “I’ll tell you what I am going to do! If a neighbor’s alarm is going off, I am not waiting for the police to arrive, I am going to get my gun and see what is wrong!” He may not have been thinking it, but he was pushing the Zimmerman Option.
Anyone facing the situation George Zimmerman faced, the situation the unfortunate neighbor faced in north Texas or the situation the talk show host hypothesized has several options. One can wait for the cops to come riding to the rescue. One can simply cower under the bed and hope the bad guys go away. Or, one can grab his or her firearm of choice and go running off into the night crying “Hi-yo Silver!” That is exactly what Zimmerman and the 72-year-old man in north Texas did. It is exactly what the courageous talk show host claimed he would do in similar circumstances.
George Zimmerman is finding out the hard way that being the neighborhood protector is a risky avocation. Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin on the night of February 26, 2012. After nearly sixteen months of living with his decision that night, George Zimmerman is now on trial for killing Martin. Whatever the outcome of the trial, Zimmerman’s life will never be the same, and his future will be uncertain.
There are consequences to the choices one makes. Zimmerman is living the consequences of his actions, as are Zimmerman’s family, Martin’s family and the community in which they live. Whether Zimmerman’s motives that evening were pure or evil makes little difference at this point. He chose to arm himself and take action because he believed the police would not or could not do their job to his satisfaction.
The Texas talk show host said he would take action similar to the actions of the 72-year-old man killed by police officers. He did not specifically say he would patrol his neighborhood as Zimmerman had done. He focused on the burglar alarm issue, but he made it clear he would respond to protect his neighbors if necessary. He also made it clear he would be armed.
It is possible the radio host was naïve enough to believe the threats to his neighborhood would all be signaled by a burglar alarm. It is possible, but highly unlikely. It was more likely he wanted to focus on the current issue and not deal with Zimmerman’s actions. The problem is that Zimmerman was responding in hopes of preventing a burglar alarm. Would the intrepid neighbor protector and radio host ignore a strange and suspicious figure walking his street?
Citizens in the United States of America have the right to keep and bear arms. Some people may not like that right, but is still a right in this country. The fact it is a right does not mean one does not have responsibility for how the right is exercised. In cases like the ones mentioned above, two people exercised that right. In one case, a 17-year-old was killed and the killer is on trial. In the second case, the police killed a 72-year-old man. The outcome of the investigation into the police shooting is not yet known. It is also of little consequence to this essay. Whatever the official outcome, two police officers must live the rest of their lives knowing they killed a man who should still be alive today.
The talk show host setting the chain of thought in motion leading to this piece was obviously not considering the consequences he or another might face if adopting the Zimmerman Option. Of course, this particular host’s shtick seems to embrace hyperbole and an over-the-top demeanor. His claims that he would grab his gun and take action may have been pure exaggeration or bravado. Unfortunately, this writer has heard others make such claims many times over the years. In some cases it was just talk. In others, it led to serious consequences. A popular radio host making claims of taking the law into his own hands might help someone make a bad decision.
It may be legal for someone to carry a weapon with them. It may be legal for someone to carry a concealed firearm. It may be legal for someone to threaten the use of that firearm to protect the person carrying the firearm, another person or even to protect property. It may be legal, but it may not be smart.
George Zimmerman was doing nothing illegal when he armed himself on that February evening. Even when he chose to disregard the police dispatcher’s advice to stand down or stop following Martin, he was likely not doing anything illegal. Still, he was doing something that was not very smart. He placed himself in a dangerous situation and ended up using deadly force because of his decision. Whether or not he legally used deadly force is for a jury to decide, but there are two indisputable facts about this matter. If he had not chosen to follow Martin that evening, he would not be on trial, and Trayvon Martin would not have died. At least he probably would not have died that night.
The 72-year-old man who carried a firearm while investigating a neighbor’s burglar alarm may have been legally carrying a weapon and legally checking on what was going on in his neighborhood. It turned out his decision was not very smart. He encountered two police officers who ended up perceiving him as a threat. They shot and killed him. While the investigation is not complete in this matter, as far as this writer knows, one thing is clear. If the deceased had not carried a firearm into an unknown situation that night, he would not have died that evening.
Police officers undergo hundreds, if not thousands of hours of training before they work alone and carry a firearm. They are trained to assess situations. They are trained to know how to defend themselves. They are trained in a concept called the use of force continuum. They are trained and prepared to deal with dangerous situations. In spite of their training and preparation, police officers are sometimes forced to use deadly force when there might have been other options. In spite of their experience, police officers are sometimes injured or killed.
Normal people do not have the training and experience even a rookie police officer has. George Zimmerman, the referenced radio host and 99.99999 percent of the people who arm themselves do not have that training. They do not have the training that would help them avoid using deadly force unnecessarily or becoming its victim. They have just enough experience to be dangerous to themselves and anyone they meet.
The preceding paragraph should not be taken as an indictment of one’s rights under the second amendment. Possessing and using a weapon for self-protection, protection of one’s family and protection of one’s home is an essential right in today’s world. Nor, should the paragraph be considered an indictment of someone legally carrying a concealed weapon for self-protection or the other reasons discussed above.
The paragraph was a warning however. It was a warning that one should take seriously before using a deadly weapon for any reason. Even when using a firearm for self defense, protecting one’s family or protecting one’s home there are risks and consequences. Venturing into the world of protecting one’s neighbors or carrying a weapon thinking one can stop a crime, is an invitation to tragedy.
Whether one agrees with OneOldCop’s thoughts about playing the hero is not important. What is important is this. The decision to arm oneself is a serious personal decision. Anyone deciding to arm himself or herself needs to understand the potential consequences of that action. Anyone deciding to take the Zimmerman Option should clearly understand he or she could end up on trail or the guest of honor at a funeral.
George Zimmerman may have acted completely legally. He may be acquitted by the jury. Yet, his life is changed forever. The lives of Jerry Wayne Waller’s family, friends and the two police officers who shot him were changed forever in the early morning hours of May 28, 2013. If you choose the Zimmerman Option at some time in your life, you should know this could happen to you and those you love.
© OneOldCop 2013
Pingback: Of Murder and Politics | An Old Cop's Place
Pingback: Rights, Exercise With Caution | An Old Cop's Place