A Perfect Neighbor? Considering George Zimmerman, Post-Circus
George Zimmerman disappeared after his acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, as low-information news consumers ranted and rioted against his perceived "profile, stalk, and murder" act going unpunished. Martin, the narrative claimed, was "just walking home." Yet the sequence of events, as borne out by 40 prosecution witnesses, 19 defense witnesses, two medical examiners, a use-of-force expert, and one of the nation's foremost forensic pathologists specializing in gunshot wounds supports the story George Zimmerman told all along.
Zimmerman stated he behaviorally profiled Martin for "acting like he was on drugs," and for lurking near the windows of a home that Zimmerman knew had been the site of a recent break-in. Medical examiner Shiping Bao later admitted the possibility that Zimmerman's story -- and hunch -- was true per the toxicology results from Martin's autopsy. Trayvon had smoked marijuana at some point that day, and the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels in his system were high enough that the drug "may have had some effect" on Martin's behavior.
Nor was Martin "just walking home." There is a missing four-minute gap between the time Zimmerman lost sight of Martin after he ran and when Martin came up behind Zimmerman and asked: "What you following me for?" Those four minutes were three minutes and 40 seconds longer than Trayvon would have needed to get home and get inside. Instead, he lurked in the darkness watching, a fact confirmed by Trayvon's friend, Rachel Jeantel.
George Zimmerman in no way "murdered" Trayvon Martin. As forensics and eyewitness accounts bear out, Trayvon Martin was in the act of committing assault with a deadly weapon (aggravated assault with a weapon under Florida law) when Zimmerman was forced to draw his weapon and fire one shot in self-defense. Use-of-Force expert Dennis Root said that Zimmerman "had no choice" but to shoot Martin in self-defense. Root further stated that he -- and anyone trained as police officers -- would have fired sooner in the attack than Zimmerman did, and would have been legally justified in doing so.
The media has asserted that Zimmerman had a violent past, that he was a man who abused women and fought with police. These claims seem to be greatly exaggerated. Zimmerman and Veronica Zuazo, his former fiancée, each filed restraining orders against one another, but there was no indication that either ever battered the other. Similarly, Zimmerman's 2005 arrest for pushing an undercover ALE officer who was attempting to arrest a friend at a bar was viewed with skepticism by the court. A judge reduced his sentence and then let him off the hook at a pre-trial diversion program.
Indeed, his legal gun ownership -- the fact that Zimmerman was granted a concealed-carry permit -- is proof in and of itself that the judicial system found neither claim of violence credible.
"Witness 9," a female cousin, claimed after Zimmerman's arrest that he molested her and others, starting when Zimmerman was just 8 years old. The same woman said the Zimmerman family was extremely racist. But neither the molestation claims against George Zimmerman nor the claims of racism -- against his tri-racial family -- were regarded as credible by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which did not find any evidence to support such claims in their civil-rights investigation.
The picture of Zimmerman painted by his family, friends, and defense team is very much at odds with the prosecution and media's caricature. Which characterization of Zimmerman is more accurate?
As fate would have it, an accident in Sanford the week after Zimmerman's "not guilty" verdict gives us a hint of the kind of man George Zimmerman was before he became infamous.
Zimmerman emerged from hiding four days after his acquittal to help a family of four escape an overturned burning vehicle. He even used a fire extinguisher to put the fire out before authorities arrived. These actions are commendable, but what made these "everyday hero" actions exceptional is the fact that Zimmerman risked his life by showing himself in public just a mile from where he shot Trayvon Martin while death threats against him and his family were at their most extreme.
As soon as authorities arrived, Zimmerman spoke briefly to them before leaving the scene. He hasn't been seen or heard from since.
Helping others is a provably recurring theme of George Zimmerman's life. Bilingual, he was a translator between parents and faculty at his elementary school by the age of 10. He is said to have tutored children in his neighborhood, helping them with homework. But perhaps the most striking example of Zimmerman's civic activism was his protesting of how Sanford police handled the beating of Sherman Ware.
Ware was a black homeless man beaten by Justin Collison -- the son of Sanford Police Department Lt. Chris Collison. Even though the incident was captured on video and Ware suffered a concussion, the younger Collison wasn't charged until much later, after the video was made public. Zimmerman excoriated the police department for what he viewed as a coverup. He later blasted the Sanford PD after a police ride-along, during which the officer he rode with allegedly told Zimmerman his favorite place to park his squad car to take naps.
It wasn't until a young mother in his neighborhood, Olivia Bertalan, experienced the terror of a home invasion, and Zimmerman took the initiative to help form a neighborhood watch, that he repaired his relationship with the Sanford Police Department through their civilian-watch liaison.
Much has been said about George Zimmerman since he fired one shot into the chest of Trayon Martin, but most of that has been vitriol directed at him after he became more of a symbol than a man to most. Those who knew him the longest, who lived near him, and who considered Zimmerman a friend do think George Zimmerman a very good man. George Zimmerman stepped up when no one else would after Sherman Ware was beaten down by a cop's son, and again when Olivia Bertalan was traumatized by two home invaders.
In this jaded, isolated age when people simply don't care about their communities and refuse to get involved, George Zimmerman chose to try to be the perfect neighbor. He cared, and dared to stand up against the injustices he perceived, even when it seemed few else did.
How many of us can claim the same?