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The Trayvon Martin case seemed to loom large over the discussion.

The Florida teen was fatally shot last month by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in a case that has ignited issues of race surrounding the shooting and its handling by the police department.

But the case has also touched off controversy over the role citizens play in policing their neighborhoods.

“I think it’s wonderful that people stood up in one respect. It sends the message out that the neighborhood is not going to take this,” Jay Phillips, a resident who lives in the 4th District, said in an interview after commenting online. “But the guy in the pursuit of Trayvon was, in his mind, doing nothing wrong as the neighbors in this case were thinking as well.”

Brightwood-area resident Charlotte Williams, who read the online account of the incident in Northeast, pointed to Trayvon Martin’s fatal shooting as “a glaring example” why residents should opt to call police rather than confront a suspect themselves.

“There was no one in immediate danger for the owner of that vehicle to go out there,” she said. “If a life is not in immediate danger, you cannot put your hands on someone. If that guy had become injured in any kind of way, he could have sued them.”

The online debate prompted a senior Metropolitan Police Department official to weigh in and restate the department’s official position.

“Our message has always been consistent, constant and clear, that if you see a crime in progress or someone that is acting suspiciously, call 911. Dispatchers will alert police and help will be on the way,” Assistant Police Chief Alfred Durham said in a statement posted to the listserv, adding that the department does not condone or advise people to confront or challenge anyone engaged in criminal behavior.

Even the van owner who took action said he invoked the story of the Florida teen when speaking with the young man he caught in his vehicle before the police carted him away.

“I told the young man, that young man was in the wrong place at the wrong time with people having the wrong perception of him,” the van owner said.

“And there you are in the wrong place at the wrong time with people who have the right perception of you.”