June 17 will mark the 39th anniversary of the infamous Watergate break-in by robbers and schemers sympathetic to President Richard Nixon. A security guard named Frank Wills was essential to foiling the plot. His judgment and techniques were far superior to those of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood guard who killed Trayvon Martin in February 2012.
Wills saw and heard suspicious activity in the Watergate Tower, which housed the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters 1972. Doors were unexpectedly, repeatedly opening and closing. Lights that should have been off were suddenly being turned on, and then off; only to be followed by the glow of flashlights.
What grabbed Wills’ attention was the tape that was used to attempt to keep the locks on the door pried open. Back in May, there had been two other break-ins. They had been successful, if not particularly productive, because the black electrical tape was placed vertically over the locks. For that reason, there was no hint of the tape stretching around the lock and being visible to an observer. This time, the four Cuban robbers, along with former CIA employee James McCord, put the tape horizontally around the locks.
Wills noticed this. He did not try to be a hero by taking on a band of robbers. He didn’t even try to corner any of them. Instead, he called the Washington, DC police, as were his instructions, and informed them of the peculiar behavior. The DC police immediately sent an unmarked
car with undercover police officers to the Watergate. Wills, who had gone to the lobby, let them in and the officers went to the 5th floor, the site of the unusual behavior. They called for reinforcements and arrested the five burglars. Shortly thereafter, it became known that Nixon “black bag” tricksters Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy were across the street in the Howard Johnson’s Hotel, guiding the break-in through their walkie-talkies. They knew trouble when they saw it.
Like the DC police, the Sanford, FL police instructed the security guard, in this case George Zimmerman, to back off of his suspect, in this case Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman failed to follow the orders. While it’s not entirely clear what took place initially between Zimmerman and Martin, we do know that Zimmerman took out a gun and shot Martin in the chest, almost point blank. It instantly killed him.
Zimmerman was looking for trouble; Wills was looking to avoid it. Wills was a trained guardsman; Zimmerman was a loose cannon. The upshots of both incidents were rather predictable. Wills became a hero, although not very well known. But his conscientiousness led to the resignation of a corrupt president. Zimmerman became a reckless individual on the fringe of law enforcement. His actions led to a cold-blooded murder and himself being charged with second-degree murder. Too bad that neither Zimmerman nor the Sanford police didn’t know the story of Frank Wills. Trayvon Martin would probably be alive, and Zimmerman would be a solid citizen living a semi-peaceful life.
Since 1969, Arthur Lieber has been teaching and working in non-profit educational organizations. His focus has been on promoting critical, creative, and enjoyable learning for students in informal settings. In the 2010 mid-term elections, he was the Democratic nominee for US Congress from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.