It matters what things are called. Mere words can set standards and expectations for what happens after an idea or an enterprise is launched. If, that is, people pay attention.
Thus it should be stressed from time to time that the programs, official and not, that involve everyday people stepping up to help prevent crime in their homes and streets are called neighborhood watch.
Watch. Not pursue. Not confront. Not take the law, and a deadly weapon, into one's own hands and do, probably wrongly, something that even trained police officers might have trouble doing perfectly.
All this comes to mind after the verdict in the Florida trial of George Zimmerman, the man who was accused and, eventually, acquitted of murder after he shot and killed an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin.
Throughout the controversy, Zimmerman was described as a neighborhood watch volunteer. If so, he was a horribly overzealous one, whose unwise actions have seriously and unfairly besmirched the reputation of neighborhood watch volunteers all across the nation.
The whole idea of a neighborhood watch program is for people to take common sense measures to make themselves and their neighbors less vulnerable to crime. In addition to being additional eyes and ears not additional guns for the police, they also encourage households to do such things as lock doors and windows, install motion-sensing lighting and keep shrubs from growing large enough to provide burglars or other crooks with convenient hiding places.
As reported in Sunday's Tribune, such efforts have been shown to make a mark in reducing crime in some Salt Lake City neighborhoods, the East Liberty Park neighborhood prime among them. With no collateral damage.
This despite Utah's highly permissive gun laws, including the same stand-your-ground law that was blamed for establishing a showdown atmosphere in the Zimmerman case, even though it was not officially a point in the trial and verdict.
The fact is that intelligent neighborhood watch programs and the stand-your-ground mentality are clearly at cross-purposes with one another. The former seeks to avoid confrontation, the latter frankly encourages it. So far, the Utah version of stand-your-ground has no body count attached to it. Perhaps that is because Utahns, despite all the tough talk, know better than to behave as though armed confrontations lead to peaceful streets.
Perhaps we've just been lucky.
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