Respect Neighborhood Watch

Respect Neighborhood Watch

Like much of America, we’re watching the Trayvon Martin/ George Zimmerman case in Florida, but we’ll take no position on it before the courts rule.
We’re also following a similar case in Baltimore that hits closer to home.
There, the trial of Eliyahu and Avi Werdesheim, two Orthodox Jews accused of beating a teenage African-American boy in their neighborhood Nov. 19, 2010, while on a Neighborhood Watch patrol, is under way.
In a twist to this case, the alleged victim approached the judge last week and asked that the charges be dropped. The judge told him that was up to the prosecutor, but she did excuse him from testifying.
Even if the boy doesn’t want to proceed, CBS News reports that the prosecution has a pretty good eyewitness — a retired Navy SEAL.
The network also reports that a Baltimore Jewish Times reporter admitted under oath that he permitted one of the brothers — Eliyahu — to edit a story he wrote two weeks after the incident, which included exclusive interviews with both brothers.
All of which makes for interesting reading, but we’re not going to take a position on this case either. This is why we have courts, and they should be allowed to do their jobs.
We are going to take a position — express concern, actually — for Neighborhood Watch, which is a great idea that may need some tweaking to keep its reputation intact.
It concerns us that two racially charged incidents involving Neighborhood Watch (never mind that Zimmerman wasn’t actually part of an official Neighborhood Watch patrol) have put the entire idea in the spotlight.
Across the country — and that includes Pittsburgh — many good people of all races and ethnic groups give up their time to stand watch over their neighborhoods at night to keep them safe and be extra sets of eyes and ears for the police. In most cases, they do their jobs right.
According to the National Sheriff’s Association, Neighborhood Watch groups “typically focus on observation and awareness as a means of preventing crime and employ strategies that range from simply promoting social interaction and watching out for each other to active patrols by groups of citizens.”
They do not tail or confront suspects themselves.
Whether Zimmerman and the Werdesheim brothers are guilty or not guilty, they definitely ignored the set parameters of Neighborhood Watch groups. Zimmerman should never have followed Martin (even the 911 operator told him not to), and the Werdesheims should never have engaged the youth in their neighborhood.
But they did, and the Neighborhood Watch concept has been given two undeserved black eyes.
The question is, how to stop this from happening again.
That may not be possible. There will probably always be a few overly zealous citizens who stray beyond the rules and cause public incidents. Nevertheless, training for Neighborhood Watch volunteers should constantly be reviewed and upgraded when needed.
Above all, those who volunteer for Neighborhood Watch patrols should not be tarred and feathered by bad acts of a few. What they do is a mitzva, and that should be respected.