Along with many other folks this morning, I am pondering the significance of the "not guilty" verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.
First, I must say that I wholeheartedly wish the news' fascination with this story would be focused elsewhere. There are so many topics around the world far more worthy of laser focus than the story of one misguided "citizen" who patrolled his neighborhood on the lookout for "punks."
But, we all know that the 24/7 news cycle simply needs, make that creates, these stories--or else the perpetual breathless approach to news might shrivel up and go away. Oh, there's a thought.
Back to this trial and its perhaps all-too-predictable verdict.
I have been puzzling over the details of this story ever since it first emerged. I have tried to understand what kind of neighborhood George Zimmerman lived in that he saw himself as the last bastion of civilization. There he was, patrolling the streets of his neighborhood trying to keep the barbarians at bay. And when he failed--after all, a young man still walked through that gated community for all Zimmerman's watchfulness--he decided he had to take "the law" into his own hands. And since he was armed, he felt invincible.
So, what's different about our neighborhood--the place where we live?
Perhaps we have not had break-ins. That was part of the dynamic that George Zimmerman perceived that gave rise to his determination to patrol the neighborhood. But, no, we too have had break-ins in our neighborhood.
We have had several break-ins. At least one included a young man knocking on the door of one house in our neighborhood and, flashing a gun, demanding money. Another break-in occurred while neighbors were at a family funeral (which alerted us to the fact that some people are so coldly opportunistic that they read obituary notices to see who won't be home).
Perhaps we don't have young men walking through our neighborhood. That too was part of the dynamic for George Zimmerman. But we have young people, mostly young men, some of whom are white and some of whom are black. So, in George Zimmerman's parlance, we too have "punks."
So what is different?
Well, for one thing we do not have a gated community. We are bounded on two sides by apartment complexes, which makes our neighborhood seem like a convenient short-cut path. Not being a gated community is just a small difference.
What really sets us apart, I believe, is the fact that we FEEL like a neighborhood. I don't know everyone by name, but I know many people. So, when I see someone walking through the neighborhood, I say "hi." I realize I don't know everyone I talk to, but I want to be friendly in a non-threatening way, which carries its own message. The message is "I am paying attention to you, and to who is here in my neighborhood."
When someone is away from his or her home in our neighborhood, we watch each other's houses. In fact, for immediate neighbors, we frequently make a lap around the outside of the house, just checking to make sure all is in order.
I am not naive. Being neighborly doesn't shield our neighborhood from petty crime. But not assuming that anyone who walks through our neighborhood is intent of committing a crime--well, that helps to keep things from escalating out of control, until someone arms himself, decides he can determine a passer-by's motivation, and with a side-arm to trail that person, and eventually "defend" himself. That's what is different.
Might it just be that a mind-set of violence leads to a culture of violence which results in a commission of violence?