Frank Taaffe had been living at the Retreat at Twin Lakes for almost six years when his friend George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin.
“In those six years, I’ve seen a lot of drug activities, burglaries, break-ins of vehicles, all within a short period of time,” he described about the troubles that had been plaguing the community. To solve these problems, “The HOA [Home Owner’s Association] called [the] Sandford PD to come out to establish the neighborhood watch. And all that involved was to volunteer — step forward, which George did.”
One of Zimmerman’s few supporters, Taaffe is a solid man of middle age who stands at about six feet tall. While imposing, Taaffe maintains a youthful air with a cleanly cropped goatee and buoyant spirit. In speaking to theGrio, Taaffe praised Zimmerman for his willingness to serve their besieged hamlet. This willingness seemed to overshadow the repercussions of Zimmerman’s reckless actions.
“He stepped up and said, ‘I’ve got this guys. I’ll take care of the community,’” Taaffe said of Zimmerman choosing to oversee security at the complex. “At that point, nobody gave him any argument, because it required daily patrols at night, on your own volition, taken out of your time. Heat, cold, rain, whatever the case is. George stepped up to the plate. And we as residents found that to be very admirable.”
Taaffe came to know Zimmerman intimately while acting as a watch block captain under George, who was captain of the neighborhood watch. Taaffe claims he saw the real Zimmerman — and that he is not a racist.
“He went around and did introduce himself to a few of the neighbors,” Frank remembered about his buddy, “As a matter of fact, there’s an African-American couple that lives next door to me that he introduced himself [to], and they didn’t find him racist at all.”
Yet, this is not all it takes to determine whether an individual is suited to lead a watch group. In a previous Grio report, leaders of the national USAonWatch-Neighborhood Watch Program specified that proper training is central to ensuring a program’s safety.
“Neighborhood Watch — the way we teach it, and the way it has always been — is based on the premise that we don’t carry weapons, nor do we intervene in any incidences,” Chris Tutko, Director of Neighborhood Watch for the National Sheriffs’ Association, told theGrio, “because what that does is escalate a situation and makes a volunteer another victim.”
Or in Trayvon Martin’s case, makes a visitor into a martyr for the causes of better gun control and an end to “Stand Your Ground” laws.
When asked whether he or Zimmerman received any training as neighborhood watchmen, Taaffe said explicitly, “No.”To the question of whether Retreat at Twin Lakes dwellers and visitors might have been safer had they been trained, Taaffe seemed shocked. “What do you mean by training? Do you mean tactical training? Surveillance?” He was unaware that training information is readily available on the Neighborhood Watch web site, which specifies that patrols should not be armed. Coaching is also available that teaches volunteers how to properly note what classifies as suspicious activity according to one’s neighborhood.
Although the Retreat’s neighborhood watch was founded with the help of the Sanford police, these authorities never suggested training to Taaffe and Zimmerman. Sanford police spokesperson Sgt. David Morgenstern confirmed over the phone to theGrio that there is “no formal training” for watch groups started through his department.
“We did work with Sanford police,” but, ”[t]here’s no real training,” Taaffe confirmed, “There’s just common sense. If you’re a homeowner, and you look at somebody who’s…”
Taaffe trailed off before alluding to Trayvon’s “suspicious” appearance — then took up the subject directly.
“What if it was your neighborhood? And you had been phased by all the criminal activities that had transpired in your neighborhood?,” Taaffe elaborated, “and after eight burglaries — and they were all [done] by the same group of individuals, young black males, documented, that perpetrated these crimes — how would you feel if somebody walked through your neighborhood that more or less was within that scope? Would you not confront them and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Where are you going? What’s up?’ I know I would do the same thing. And I have done it.”
Yet, the Retreat at Twin Lakes has a 20 percent black population according to the U.S. Census. If Taaffe and Zimmerman had received the neighborhood watch training that was available, Zimmerman might have realized that a black male walking near his home at night is not suspicious. Correct training teaches volunteers to observe and report intelligently, which includes knowing what is and isn’t out of place.
It is profoundly clear that Zimmerman’s level of “common sense” was tragically deficient as a guide. Despite this, Taaffe clung to his belief that Trayvon Martin seemed out of place on the night he was shot, due to the rash of previous crimes and the race of the people who had perpetrated them.
Plus, “George had a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Let’s establish that,” Taaffe told theGrio before heading to his next media interview. He also strongly hopes, “that this will never happen again to anybody’s child,” and sees Martin’s death as a “perfect storm” of coincidences that are not Zimmerman’s fault.
The culpability Zimmerman has for mentally placing an innocent kid in the same bucket as criminals that Trayvon had nothing do with, escaped him. Taaffe justified the racial profiling that transformed Trayvon Martin from a carefree youth into a causality, while admitting to such acts himself. The innocence with which he uttered these statements can give us insight into why Zimmerman holds so tightly to his own claims of innocence.
In some cases, ignorance of evil makes that evil worse.
Follow Alexis Garret Stodghill on theGrio at @lexisb