When the Trayvon Martin case first started garnering national attention, there were many that thought they knew who George Zimmerman was: an overzealous racist with a vendetta against young black men who was on a mission to assert power with his gun. But then little details started emerging, such as pictures of Zimmerman’s bloody head that could bolster his self-defense claim; CNN even backtracked and said the tape it once suggested showed Zimmerman uttering a racist slur was actually him most likely saying it was “cold.”
And now, Reuters has put together a detailed profile of Zimmerman that seems to suggest he was a concerned citizen that was trying to help fix his community and those in it reeling from recent crime. He was a compassionate neighbor, it seems, not a lunatic with a gun.
“During the time Zimmerman was in hiding, his detractors defined him as a vigilante who had decided Martin was suspicious merely because he was black,” Reuters reports. “After Zimmerman was finally arrested on a charge of second-degree murder more than six weeks after the shooting, prosecutors portrayed him as a violent and angry man who disregarded authority by pursuing the 17-year-old.
“But a more nuanced portrait of Zimmerman has emerged from a Reuters investigation into Zimmerman’s past and a series of incidents in the community in the months preceding the Martin shooting.” [Emphasis added]
So what does it show? For starters, it was an animal control officer who told Zimmerman he should get a gun after a pit bull was menacing him and his wife. His friends, however, never even knew he had a firemarm until about two months ago. And, Reuters says, “He was raised in a racially integrated household and himself has black roots through an Afro-Peruvian great-grandfather – the father of the maternal grandmother who helped raise him.”
Business Insider put together some chronological bullet points highlighting the article’s most important points:
- Zimmerman grew up in a mixed-race household
- He was an altar boy at his Caltholic church from age 7-17
- He is bilingual
- After he finished high school, he studied for and got an insurance license
- In 2004, Zimmerman and a black friend opened an Allstate insurance office (which soon failed)
- Zimmerman’s 2005 arrest for “resisting arrest, violence, and battery of an officer” occurred after he shoved an under-cover alcohol control agent at a bar when the agent was trying to arrest an underage friend of his
- Zimmerman married his wife, Shellie, in 2007. They rented a house in Twin Lakes. Twin Lakes is about 50% white, 20% Hispanic, and 20% black.
- In 2009, Zimmerman enrolled in Seminole State College
- In the fall of 2009, a pit bull broke free twice and once cornered Shellie in the Zimmermans’ yard. George Zimmerman asked a police officer whether he should buy pepper spray. The cop told him pepper spray wasn’t fast enough and recommended that he get a gun.
- By the summer of 2011, Twin Lakes “was experiencing a rash of burglaries and break-ins.” In several of the cases, witnesses said the robbers were young black men
- In July 2011, a black teenager stole a bicycle off the Zimmermans’ porch
- In August of 2011, a neighbor of the Zimmermans, Olivia Bertalan, was home during the day when two young black men entered her house. She hid in a room upstairs and called the police. When the police arrived, the two men, who had been trying to take a TV, fled. One of them ran through the Zimmermans’ yard.
- After the break-in, George Zimmerman stopped by the Bertalans and gave Olivia a card with his name and number on it. He told her to visit his wife Shellie if she felt unsafe.
- The police recommended that Bertalan get a dog. She moved away instead. Zimmerman got a second dog–a Rottweiler.
- In September, several concerned residents of the neighborhood, including Zimmerman, asked the neighborhood association to create a neighborhood watch. Zimmerman was asked to run it.
- In the next month, two more houses in the neighborhood were robbed.
- A community newsletter reminded residents to report any crimes to the police and then call “George Zimmerman, our captain.”
- On February 2, 2012, Zimmerman spotted a young black man looking into the windows of a neighbor’s empty house. He called the police and said “I don’t know what he’s doing. I don’t want to approach him, personally.” The police sent a car, but by the time they arrived, the man was gone.
- On February 6th, another house was burglarized. Witnesses said two of the robbers were black teenagers. One, who had prior burglary convictions, was soon caught with a laptop stolen from the house.
- Two weeks later, Zimmerman spotted Travyon Martin and called the police. The last time he had done this, the suspect got away. This time, he disregarded police instructions and followed. A few minutes later, Martin was dead.
Is it possible that Zimmerman is an angry racist? It is. But as Business Insider wonders, “doesn’t it make you feel a bit differently about Zimmerman?”