A young Florida man is walking home from a convenience store. He is minding his own business and is no threat to anybody else, but another man spies him and for reasons known only to himself, he decides to follow that young man, even though a 911 operator he called to report what he was doing tells him not to do that.
The end result of that action leaves an innocent person dead and a country in an uproar over what should or should not have been done in that case.
What would you have done, many of us are asking ourselves. That question has been very much on my mind because once I was confronted with a very similar situation and didn't know what to do, and the incident haunted me long afterward.
I was babysitting that day, the 5-year-old son of some friends, and we were sitting in my Longmont kitchen having lunch when I glanced out my back door and saw something that didn't look right to me. What I saw was a young man walking along the bank of an irrigation ditch behind my home, and he was carrying a suitcase.
Now lots of people used the ditch bank as a walking path, so to see someone there was not unusual, but it was the suitcase that caught my eye. Why was he carrying it I wondered. Besides, he seemed to be struggling with it, as if it was too heavy for him although it didn't appear to be a very large suitcase.
A friend of mine who had worked for years in the security business had once told me that if I ever saw something that didn't look right to me, I should make a point of observing everything I could about it, so if I needed to give evidence later I could. So I watched the young man carefully and saw that he had shoulder length dirty blond hair, he was wearing faded denim jeans, and his navy blue coat looked like the kind that would have down filling. I'd guess his age as 21 or 22. That was all I saw before he passed beyond my sight.
But what should I do with that information? After all, the young man had done nothing wrong that I could see, and he didn't appear to be a threat to anything or anybody. There were no laws that I knew of about walking along ditch banks while carrying suitcases, and if I called 911 to report what I saw they'd probably think I was crazy.
So I stewed over what to do, but finally I picked up the phone and made that call, even though I felt like an idiot while I was doing it. But the officer who took the call treated me respectfully and wrote down everything I told him.
The young boy I was babysitting and I had just finished our lunch when the phone rang. It was a police officer calling and he said a man had been spotted a few blocks from my home who seemed to fit my description. Could he come pick me up and drive me past that guy to see if he was the same one?
The fellow was standing by a curb next to a car that had a driver in it, and another officer was watching over both of them. The guy by the curb was definitely the guy I'd seen. He'd been spotted getting into that car and I was told later that the car was full of suitcases full of loot from burglaries that had occurred in our area. The guy driving the car was the accomplice to the guy I'd seen walking along the ditchbank.
They'd been robbing houses for months, breaking into them in broad daylight, and using ditch banks near those houses for their escape route. But no one had noticed anything untoward until I'd made that phone call. Some people didn't even know they'd been robbed until some of their stuff turned up in the homes of the robbers when they were searched.
But there was a problem in my description of the one robber. The suitcase I'd described him carrying was nowhere to be found. A search was made, and it was found hidden in some weeds down by the irrigation ditch. In it was a huge jar full of coins, along with some other things, and that's why the guy had been struggling while he was carrying it.
The young friend I was babysitting was thrilled that he got to ride in a police car and he got to meet two cops. When an article appeared in the Longmont newspaper a few days later that described our adventure we were proud of what we'd helped accomplish. And I learned a lesson that I've never forgotten. If I see something that doesn't look right to me, I'll call 911 and let the authorities figure it out.
And maybe if that fellow in Florida had listened to what he was told by a 911 operator on the night he was following young Trayvon Martin, a tragedy could have been avoided.
Marjorie E. Johnson
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