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Trayvon Martin and DUI Cases – A Lesson For Law Enforcement

By Andrew Mishlove on March 20, 2012


What does the Trayvon Martin case teach us about DUI enforcement?  It teaches us the risks of vigilante justice and the dangers imposed on the public by law enforcement personnel who enlist overzealous citizens to assist them.

As you have probably heard, Trayvon Martin was an African American teenager who was accosted and murdered by a vigilante “neighborhood watch” volunteer.  This incident occurred while the vigilante was on the telephone to a police dispatcher, following Trayvon.  The innocent teenager was extremely frightened, on his cellphone to his girlfriend, knowing that he was being stalked by an unknown assailant.

Time and time again, I see this tactic used by law enforcement in DUI cases.  A concerned citizen, typically with no law-enforcement training or experience, calls 911 on a cell phone to report some kind of erratic driving.  The dispatcher takes the necessary information and dispatches a squad car to the scene.  So far, this is appropriate.   Here is where it gets extremely dangerous.  The dispatcher instructs the citizen to activate his emergency flashers and follow the citizen, assisting law enforcement in locating the vehicle and identifying the citizen informant.

Doesn’t this sound like the Trayvon Martin situation, but with the added dangerous element of moving cars?  I have had cases where overzealous citizens actually try to stop the suspect vehicle, as if they are police.  More often, I have had clients who thought that they were being followed by an attacker.  This is an unbelievably traumatic situation for a young woman who is alone in her car late at night.

The Trayvon Martin case was not an unforeseeable aberration.  It was not just the result of racism or an overzealous vigilante.  Trayvon Martin’s death was foreseeable; because, the government enlists vigilantes to assist law enforcement, just as authoritarian states’ regimes enlist irregular militias.  These untrained, overzealous and emotionally motivated persons will inevitably act out their personal agendas, with tragic consequences.

I have no problem with law enforcement seeking and using citizen complaints.  The practice of having citizen/vigilantes follow the so-called suspects should stop immediately.  It is one thing for the police to get information from the public.  It is another thing, altogether, for the police to use the public as a posse.

I call on law enforcement to immediately cease the practice of having citizen informants follow suspects.  For Trayvon Martin, and all the others like him past and future,  I hope some good can come of this.

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