Though the setting of this tragedy may not have much bearing on the criminal investigation, the issue of place is something that should not evade public scrutiny. Martin was deemed “suspicious” while walking in a gated community.
While the logic Zimmerman used to arrive at this conclusion cannot be rationalized or even understood, I would argue that the privatized nature of his neighborhood partially enabled his skewed sense of authority. As anthropologist Setha Low wrote in a 2007 essay published in Next American City, gated residential communities “intensify social segregation, racism, and exclusionary land use practices, and raise a number of conflicting values” ....
Low, author of Behind the Gates: Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America, argues that there is no evidence that gated communities are any safer than any other neighborhood. Furthermore, she points out that while a security gate “can provide a refuge from people who are deviant or unusual… the vigilance necessary to patrol these borders actually heightens residents’ anxiety and sense of isolation, rather than making them feel safer.”
Reading these words in light of the Trayvon’s killing, I can’t help but wonder if his walk to 7-Eleven would have ended differently if he had been on an open street instead of in a gated community.
I agree that privatized neighborhoods do foster an atmosphere of fear, but there are also larger factors in ungated communities like the ones the editorial voice of the Christian Science Monitor lists:
Many cities have learned that the best way to fight crime is to bring people together, starting with things as simple as block parties, more sports and summer jobs for teens, or a healthy voter turnout for local elections. Mutual respect and even affection in the public sphere can reduce fear.
Examples of this approach are growing. Boston pioneered a technique in the 1990s by bringing church ministers and police together to persuade young people to avoid gun violence. Chicago helps ex-offenders meet up with neighborhood residents to restore their community bonds. Britain has begun to adopt some of these American methods after recent urban gang riots.
Yet tough economic times make it difficult for working people to be neighborly, go to community meetings, or engage with police and other officials. More residents are renters and thus not putting down roots. A neighborhood’s shift in ethnic or racial makeup can reduce trust and a sense of shared civic values.
Shared civic values are beset on one side by pressures to privatize and on the other by diminishing government commitments to infrastructure and programs and willingness to bow to the fickle vagaries of the housing market. These larger structural obstacles to community aggravate ethnic/racial tensions that make violence probable.