I was a Blockwatch leader for several years in my Phoenix neighborhood. I did it as a way to help the community which was experiencing an unusually high number of break ins. As Blockwatch leader, I organized neighborhood meetings in which a police officer would attend. The idea was to get everyone to look out for each other and learn more about the resources that were available to us from the Phoenix Police Department. We did not participate in neighborhood patrols. I have since relinquished my duties, but the thing that sticks with me most from this experience is that my neighbors wanna shoot someone...
As a new transplant from Maryland, my AZ neighbor offered me a great opportunity to meet the rest of our neighbors. "Become the Blockwatch leader," she suggested. Wanting to everything I could to make a good impression, I took her up on this and submitted the needed paperwork, contacted the proper authorities and came up with a great name, Argus, named fro the mythological watchman with hundreds of eyes. Research under my belt, I planned my first meeting.
It was a huge success which was well attended! Not because I had refreshments, nice handouts, a neighbor contact list, fliers, and a Phoenix Police Officer coming to talk to us. It was well attended because the week before, a house had been broken into and word spread. Everyone came to either gossip or complain to the Officer about neighborhood break-ins. But no one offered to help by getting our addresses painted in the alley or helping each other "burglar proof" their homes by trimming bushes or fix lighting.
After realizing that no one came to the meetings before a burglary, I just decided to wait until we had one in the neighborhood to convene our next Blockwatch meetings. We ended up having about one meeting per year. It was good way to get the scoop on recent nefarious activities, complain about speed bumps and, yes meet your neighbors. After all, knowing your neighbors makes it more likely that you will look out for each other. And knowing your neighbors helps you know who belongs and who doesn't. One time, the cop who joined us for our meeting, arrived in an unmarked car and commented that he was happy to see the suspicious looks he got cruising our neighborhood. He was Hispanic. It's one thing to be the quintessential nosy neighbor, but to make everyone who looks different than you feel out of place and watched gave me the heebie jeebies. I might as well have lived in a gated community. Although this incident made me cringe, I get an even worse feeling each time a neighbor asks the question. The feeling I get is fear and the question asked is this:
"If someone comes on my property, can I shoot 'em?"
Never fail, someone or two or three would move the conversation away from proper lighting and vacation precautions to vigilantism. The officers always hedged their bets saying that you should call the police and let them handled it. When pressed, and they were always pressed, the officer would explain that you have every right to protect yourself with deadly force but only if you, not your property, is in danger. Well, this wasn't enough for some people who felt they had every right to protect their crap, and the justifications and debate would continue. I remember some meetings where this was discussed for the majority of the hour long meeting.
So, I learned that while no one is really interested in keeping their neighborhoods safe by offering to organize an address painting in the alley or trim hedges for elderly neighbors, some are interested in shooting any outsider that sets foot on their land. They are all for that and that's just plain scary. Even though I like most of my neighbors, and I (white woman) feel safe here, I would not be surprised if someone like Trayvon would be a victim in my neighborhood. "Stand your ground" is a slippery slope with tragic consequences.