Slate has a good explainer on Neighborhood Watch and their effectiveness here, and the Orlando Sentinel has a useful story on the relationship between the police and neighborhood watch groups.

Some outlets have described Zimmerman as a “self-appointed” neighborhood watch captain, but other accounts indicate that Zimmerman volunteered for the job, and that neighbors approved of him in the position. Accounts also indicate that while Zimmerman was violating neighborhood watch guidance, until the shooting of Trayvon Martin, some residents thought Zimmerman was doing a good job. Crime continued in the subdivision, and Zimmerman was credited with apprehending one suspect and thwarting crimes. “Interviews with neighbors reveal a pleasant young man passionate about neighborhood security who took it upon himself to do nightly patrols while he walked his dog,” writes Robles.

The story goes on to offer testimonies from several neighbors who credited Zimmerman for improved security at Twin Lakes, but also quotes a resident who, fitting the description of the ‘suspicious’ characters Zimmerman targeted, was clearly made nervous and changed his behaviors to avoid the zealous watch captain. She interviews 25-year old Ibrahim Rashada:

“I fit the stereotype he emailed around,” he said. “Listen, you even hear me say it: ‘A black guy did this. A black guy did that.’ So I thought, ‘Let me sit in the house. I don’t want anyone chasing me.’ ”

For walks, he goes downtown.

That residents didn’t feel safe to move freely within their own gated community because of an overzealous neighborhood watch captain is a tragic irony, and in a smart blog post at BetterCities.com, Robert Steuteville argues that while gates are designed to provide a measure of security, they in fact worked in reverse for Trayvon Martin.

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CJR Staff is a contributor to CJR.