Does the Third Amendment Speak to the George Zimmerman Case?
Author’s Note, April 23, 2012: I have removed the word “gated” from my description of the Twin Lakes community per the following link: “According to Ryan Julison, assistant to Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump, Twin Lakes is actually not entirely gated. There is also no guard at the gate, there are no high fences. The community is just modest condos, Julison says, not protected with the electronic equivalent of a castle moat. So the Gate Access Form provided by The Retreat at Twin Lakes Homeowners Association could be considered somewhat misleading.”
– J. Neil Schulman
On February 26, 2012 George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in the Sanford, Florida Retreat at Twin Lakes community which had recently suffered a spate of home burglaries, observed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin walking in circles in the rain, and telephoned his local police department to report the activity as suspicious. While on the phone with the police dispatcher Zimmerman reportedly followed Martin, and at some point there was a confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin in which witnesses report Zimmerman down on the ground with Martin on top of him. We know this confrontation ended when Zimmerman, who was licensed to carry a concealed firearm, fatally shot Martin.
Zimmerman is now out on bond, charged by Florida with Second Degree Murder. The state’s affidavit in support of this charge alleges that Zimmerman improperly followed Martin, initiating the confrontation, even though in the bail hearing State Investigator Dale Gilbreath testified that Florida does not know whether Zimmerman continued to follow Martin after the police dispatcher advised him this was not needed, and even though according to Dale Gilbreath’s testimony the State does not know whether Zimmerman or Martin started the fight.
But it’s the Florida prosecution’s contention that Zimmerman can not claim self-defense justifying his use of deadly force since by following Martin he created the circumstances leading to the teenager’s death.
Much of the discussion of this case has referred to Zimmerman’s right to be armed, constitutionally preserved under the Second Amendment. I’ve previously written on these pages that instead of restricting George Zimmerman’s right to keep and bear arms, it should have been expanded to include Trayvon Martin’s right to defend his life.
But what has not been discussed is whether as a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, George Zimmerman was acting properly in following Trayvon Martin.
I think the Third Amendment speaks to that question.
The Third Amendment reads, “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
A narrow reading of this prohibition against “quartering” has failed to find a legal case to apply it to in the 221 years since it was added to the Bill of Rights. But this amendment’s placement between amendments preserving the right to keep and bear arms and restrictions on the powers of the government with respect to the privacy of the people deserves closer examination.
The Framers of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights did not see a clear distinction between soldiers and police officers. There were no municipal police departments in the United States at the time the Bill of Rights was under discussion, and crime control was the responsibility of the citizenry at large, responding to a “hue and cry” and organized ad hoc under the Power of the County — today still known using the original Latin phrase, posse comitatus. The American experience of the recent British subjects was that British soldiers were used by the royally-appointed governors as police officers. Embedding such officers among the people by quartering them in private homes was just one particularly egregious way of taxing the Americans to pay for the protection “services” being provided to them by their government.
Neighborhood Watch Volunteer George Zimmerman
After the 1992 Los Angeles riots I applied for and received a California license to carry a concealed firearm — which I carried in California until 2007 — and as training I took California’s PC-832 course, and passed the California POST exam. My Powers of Arrest and Communications and Tactics instructor, Jim Saharek, was a retired U.S. Secret Service agent; my Firearms instructor, Barry Dineen, was an LAPD officer. I got a perfect 4.0 grade in all three modules, as well as on the final POST exam.
Regarding the George Zimmerman case.
There’s an aspect to this case which I have not heard discussed: that the “police” powers of a private citizen are in many cases identical to a sworn police officer’s — and for a good reason; most police powers originate with the private citizen. George Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch security volunteer on private property that he was authorized to be on.
When George Zimmerman observed Trayvon Martin acting in a manner he considered suspicious — walking around in circles in the rain — Citizen Zimmerman was acting within his assigned role to investigate further.
Citizen Zimmerman was acting within his proper role as a private Neighborhood Watch security volunteer to track Trayvon Martin, and to approach Trayvon Martin to ask him whether he lived on the property or who he was visiting.
The police dispatcher Zimmerman was talking to on the phone had an inferior understanding of the tactical situation than the security officer on scene (Zimmerman) and the dispatcher’s statement “We don’t need you to [follow your suspect]” was a well-intentioned attempt to keep Zimmerman out of jeopardy; but Zimmerman was the security officer on scene and was within his duty to pursue if he thought by doing so he was acting in protection of his neighbors’ safety.
I’ve heard TV pundits refer to George Zimmerman as a wannabe cop or “self appointed” neighborhood watch volunteer. This is a denigration of the private citizen’s responsibility to protect his neighborhood that would have shocked the Founding Fathers, who considered it was precisely the role of the private citizen to protect his neighbors whether as posse comitatus or as militia; the idea of standing police departments or military officers quartered among the people (Third Amendment prohibition) was exactly what the American Revolution — and the preservation of its principles in the Bill of Rights — was designed to escape.
I’m suggesting the Third Amendment opens a window to the context and mindset of the Framers regarding a standing paramilitary police department embedded among the people — beyond the literal and narrow text of the Third Amendment. The Supreme Court might well call this the “penumbra” of the Third Amendment.
It’s the denigration of the private citizen using “police” powers to protect his community — and the usurpation of these powers by a centralized authority — that is one of the principal methods by which Americans are infantalized by a paternalistic government.
It’s one of the main Progressive strategies since the late nineteenth century tilting us into a top-down authoritarian order. We now see how these usurped police powers are commonly abused against the citizenry.
We see it in SWAT teams breaking down the doors of private homes, and sometimes killing the homeowners, in a War on Drugs that trivializes the Fourth Amendment and usurps rights still held by the People under the Ninth Amendment.
We see it when police racially profile minorities, whether black youths like Trayvon Martin or Hispanics like George Zimmerman, who police think might be illegally in the country.
We see it in police officers arresting citizens who legally have the right to video or photograph them while executing their police powers in public places.
We see it in the common excessive use of police powers, in handcuffing even a six-year-old girl being taken into police custody for throwing a tantrum while in a kindergarten class.
We see it in TSA officers touching the private parts of women, children, and senior citizens, whose only crime is an intent to board a commercial airliner.
If merely by following Trayvon Martin, pursuant to his responsibilities as a Neighborhood Watch Volunteer, Citizen Zimmerman loses his right of self-defense, then there is one more disempowerment of the sovereign American citizen as understood by the Founders.
This prosecution is one more indication that the progressive centralization of authority in soldiers embedded among the citizens is a counterrevolution far along its way of reversing the liberties fought for and won in the American Revolution.
This article is Copyright © 2012 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.
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