Local Zimmerman verdict reaction: Vigilance, not vigilantism

Vigilance, not vigilantism. No weapons, other than pepper spray for self-defense. More reliance on paper and cellphones.

For almost everyone on neighborhood watch groups in Williamsport, a question of what message did the George Zimmerman verdict send was followed by a common answer: Those involved do not take the law into their own hands.

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., got out of his car after police instructed him not to. His actions led to an altercation with unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, whom Zimmerman said he shot in self-defense on Feb. 26, 2012. Martin died and in a jury trial Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges July 13.

“The verdict didn’t change how I view things as a neighborhood watch volunteer,” said Bill Henderson, who watches over neighborhoods along Market Street north to Hawthorne and Homewood avenues.

“Our message has always been non-violent,” Henderson said. “No one is carrying arms and we work very closely with the police and let them handle the situation.”

That message was repeated by Jeff Reeder, president of the Williamsport Citizens Corps Council.

“There are to be no firearms carried on any neighborhood watch activities,” Reeder said. The directive was sent down from the National Sheriff’s Association right after the shooting of Martin, he added.

“They (group members) can carry a cellphone with them, a flashlight and pepper spray, should they choose,” Reeder said. “I don’t carry anything but pad and pencil.”

For Maynard Homler, of Scott Street Neighborhood Watch, the verdict is a life lesson.

“He was wrong for being out at night on watch, carrying a handgun,” said Homler, who has a permit to carry a concealed firearm. “I’ve been around guns my whole life and there’s a right and wrong time to have them. You carry something that is non-lethal, such as pepper spray.”

“We take a whistle and a flashlight,” said Frank Welteroth, of Park Place. He takes walks with his wife, Marie, and the group who check on First and Park avenues, Memorial Avenue and parts of Campbell Street.

“The whistle is used for somebody being attacked and we would blow it to try to hope to scare them,” he said. “A flashlight helps to look down alleys that are dark.”

“I think it’s like taking the law into your own hands,” said Jane Dirk, of Tucker Street, a group leader in the East End, of the verdict and lesson from it. “Nobody should carry a gun on a neighborhood watch.”

“The one thing I tell people is be very careful, stay out of harm’s way,” said Sally Wiegand of Louisa Street, a neighborhood watch coordinator. “I don’t believe in carrying guns. This is what can happen. I think it should be a lesson to neighborhood watchers that we are not vigilantes.”