Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


George Zimmerman: Social justice activist with a gun?

George Zimmerman, charged with the murder of teenager Trayvon Martin, stood up for the downtrodden and wanted to become a magistrate judge to help society. How does this square with depictions of him as a racist vigilante?

By Patrik JonssonStaff writer / April 21, 2012

George Zimmerman takes the witness stand Friday during a bond hearing in Sanford, Fla. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester says Zimmerman can be released on $150,000 bail as he awaits trial for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/AP

Enlarge

ATLANTA

The depictions of George Zimmerman that have emerged since he killed Trayvon Martin in the Retreat at Twin Lakes neighborhood in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26 have trended mostly around suspicions that he is a racist vigilante, a product of a “shoot first” mentality.

Skip to next paragraph

But as more information about Mr. Zimmerman’s past surfaces, a contrasting picture is emerging that  suggests his values may also align closely with those of social justice activists who have sought his arrest and prosecution for murder.

Suggestions by his parents that their son worked to protect society’s have-nots raise a question: Is Zimmerman, a registered Democrat of mixed ethnicity who views himself as a Hispanic, actually a different breed of citizen altogether: a social justice activist with a gun?

RECOMMENDED: How 5 young black men see the Trayvon Martin case

At a bond hearing Friday, Zimmerman’s Hispanic mother, Gladys Zimmerman, disagreed with prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda’s suggestion that a 2005 arrest for assaulting a police officer showed a violent streak in the married 28-year-old, who stands accused by the state of second degree murder

Instead, she said it fit his personality in another way: His zeal to intervene to protect a friend who was being pushed up against a wall by men who turned out to be two plain-clothes law enforcement officers. (A first time offender, Zimmerman escaped a conviction by agreeing to a judge’s request that he take an anger management course.)

According to his mother, Zimmerman, who was once beaten up in high school, cares about the downtrodden and forgotten, going so far as to rally Sanford residents in defense of a homeless man who was beaten, eventually getting a commendation from the city’s mayor for his work on behalf of social justice.

He also ventured into what was viewed as a dangerous neighborhood in Orlando to mentor a pair of  black kids, telling his mother, “If I don’t go, they don’t have nobody.” He continued meeting the kids twice a month even after the program was shut down for lack of funds, she said.

“That was George, that was my son, who organized a meeting so that a poor man could have justice,” said Gladys Zimmerman, under oath. “He’s very protective of people, very protective of homeless people. He likes to defend people. He likes to protect people.”

"He's always been concerned about people in society, so he wanted to be able to help somehow," Robert Zimmerman, George Zimmerman’s father, told Judge Kenneth Lester in response to a question about why Zimmerman had been studying criminal justice in college.

Social justice has been at the core of the Trayvon Martin story.

It was the social justice website Change.org that introduced the petition that brought notice to the case, eventually leading to the appointment of a special prosecutor and second degree murder charges. Offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street movement have rallied for Zimmerman’s arrest and on behalf of Trayvon and his family. Civil rights activists have held vigils and protests across the country.

Certainly, suggestions by his parents that Zimmerman shares some of the values of his harshest critics doesn’t absolve the notion that racial stereotypes, specifically Zimmerman’s view of young black males, may have played a role in his decision to pursue Trayvon on foot, against the advice of a police dispatcher, leading to the confrontation where Trayvon died.

Police say Zimmerman made a mistake in “profiling” Martin as a criminal. Moreover, Zimmerman’s social justice ideals may have clashed with a desire to safeguard his neighborhood, where he had organized a neighborhood watch group after a series of burglaries.

Permissions

Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer

 

Doing Good

 

What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Endeavor Global, cofounded by Linda Rottenberg (here at the nonprofit’s headquarters in New York), helps entrepreneurs in emerging markets.

Linda Rottenberg helps people pursue dreams – and create thousands of jobs

She's chief executive of Endeavor Global, a nonprofit group that gives a leg up to budding entrepreneurs.

 
 
Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!