Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Price of Being Overzealous

I am not a huge fan of groups like Shomrim. This is a Jewish neighborhood watch group that helps protect residents and tries to prevent any criminal types from entering and carrying out their own nefarious ends. Shomrim regularly patrol Jewish neighborhoods in groups every night, if I understand correctly.

I am not a fan because I don’t believe in the kind of vigilante justice that sometimes results.

That said, I also understand that there are not enough police around to do that job for them. More than once have I heard cases where innocent Jews were saved by the actions of groups like these. Victims have expressed their eternal gratitude to them. Residents of those neighborhoods feel safer.

So it is a double edged sword. The question is: Do these groups do more good than harm? Is their existence a net gain for the community or is the potential for hurting innocent people too great?

I’m not sure I can answer that question. I was never a victim and my neighborhood does not have Shomrim.

There have been two incidents recently where this question has arisen. One is the case of Trayvon Martin, a black youth who was shot and killed by an over-zealous white neighborhood watchman named George Zimmerman (not Jewish). Zimmerman was arrested and charged with 2nd degree murder. He was then released on bail. That case has yet to be tried.

The other case, is about the Werdesheim brothers, one of whom – Eliyahu (pictured above)  belongs to the Shomrim in Baltimore. He was convicted of assaulting a black teenager - 15 year old Corey Ausby.  Eliyahu’s brother Avi was acquitted.

Here is what happened according to the Judge who tried the case. From the Baltimore Sun:

The Werdesheim brothers followed and frightened Ausby, now 16, as he walked down a residential street in Park Heights, causing the teen to pull a nail-studded board from a construction site, White said in her ruling. To get Ausby to drop the board, Eliyahu struck him in the head with a walkie-talkie and held him on the ground, she concluded.

The defense claimed that Eliyahu Werdesheim was acting in self defense. I’m not so sure that is accurate here either. Certainly the judge didn’t buy it.

I don’t know the details of the case other than what has been reported in the media. But a trial was held and a judgment was rendered. Barring any evidence to the contrary I do not see this as anti-Semitism. A judge seems to have made an honest decision based on the evidence presented and the credibility of the witnesses.

Except for one thing. The victim in the case who was put on the stand to testify did something completely bizarre. From the article:

Ausby was brought to court last week to testify, but tearfully told Judge White he wanted the charges against the Werdesheim brothers dropped. He refused to respond to many questions and was not cross-examined by the defense attorneys, so White struck everything he said in court from the evidentiary record.

To me this casts doubt on the entire veracity of the victim’s claim. If he is asking that the case be dropped, then it would seem to me that the case against the Werdesheim brothers is weakened to the point of reasonable doubt. At the very least it should indicate that the suspicions the defendants had about the malicious intent of the alleged victim were probably justified.

Bearing that in mind, I don’t see how she could convict him of assault. Ignoring it in a legalistic sense by throwing out his entire testimony does not seem to serve justice.

But… like I said. I do not know what really happened. I wasn’t there. Nor was I at the trial. So it is hard for me to say with absolute certainly if justice was carried out or not. But at the same time I have to wonder why the erratic behavior of the victim on the stand was not considered.

This is a sad day for Eliyahu Werdesheim and his family. But it should serve as a lesson to Shomrim to not be too quick to take matters into their own hands.

In this case, Eliyahu should not have personally confronted Ausby but should have instead called 911 and followed him. There was no one in immediate danger. Had there been a potential assault to an innocent person -  that would have been a different story. But no one claims there was.

If there is going to be a neighborhood watch group like the Shomrim, I think they should live up to their name and…  watch! And not try and take matters into their own hands. In the Werdesheim case this seems to have been what happened.

I don’t think Eliyahu Werdesheim is a bad person. But even though his intentions were good, no good came of his actions. And now he will have to pay a price. I just hope it is not too high.