On Nov. 5, Sanford, Fla., Chief of Police Cecil Smith backed off his threat made just last week to ban neighborhood watch volunteers from carrying guns in his beleaguered city.
Sanford’s neighborhood watch program attracted world-wide attention last year when one its participants, George Zimmerman, shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin after Zimmerman was attacked. Zimmerman pleaded self-defense and in July was acquitted of second-degree murder.
“In this program,” said the patronizing Smith last week, “it is clearly stated that you will not pursue an individual. In this new program, it clearly indicates that you will not carry a firearm when performing your duties as a neighborhood watch captain or participant.”
Jack Cashill, author of the definitive book on the Zimmerman case, “If I Had A Son,” said, “Smith apparently did not bother asking who gave the police chief authority over a voluntary neighborhood watch program.”
Smith’s earlier declaration was even more legally compromised.
Cashill asked, “What led Smith to believe he had the right to disarm citizens who have the legal right to concealed carry?”
More than 1.1 million citizens exercise that right in Florida alone.
At a Tuesday press conference, Smith recanted his earlier statements. Neighborhood Watch volunteers will not be banned from carrying handguns.
Smith attributed the misunderstanding to what the Orlando Sentinel calls "his own faulty language." According to the Sentinel, Smith confused the neighborhood watch program, in which Zimmerman participated, with Citizens on Patrol, a ride-along program in which Zimmerman, the alleged "wannabe cop," refused to participate.
"Smith has been chief for seven months," Cashill said. "As an African-American who got his job because community pressure forced out his white predecessor, how could he make such a fundamental mistake? The difference between the two programs was a major point in Zimmerman's trial."
Cashill said he believes someone must have taken Smith aside and explained the Constitution to him over the weekend.
"Smith no more misspoke," Cashill contended, "than Obama did when he said, 'If you like your health plan, you could keep it.'"