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?
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“Zimmerman is said to have mentored two black children …. Does that prove he’s not a racist? No,” Touré, a well-known cultural critic (who uses a single name), writes this week in Time magazine. “Humans are filled with contradictions, so Zimmerman could have gotten to know those neighborhood boys and embraced their humanity but not extend the expectation of humanity to someone he didn’t know.”Skip to next paragraph
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Nevertheless, as more is known about Zimmerman and the circumstances that brought him to a Seminole County courtroom on Friday, the judgement of his values, which have driven much of the public debate and political division around the case, has become more complicated.
The latest revelations about Zimmerman’s social justice work come as even some progressives are looking harder at both the facts of the case and their own attitudes and prejudices about race, specifically reactions to young black males.
Blogger Sarah Milman recounts a moment where she put away a fancy new cell phone as she walked near a young black man wearing a hoodie.
“Personally, I gained a nice sense of self-satisfaction by joining a lot of other people, white and of color, in condemning Zimmerman’s apparent racism and the laws and police behavior that backed him up,” Ms. Milman writes. “After all, I don’t own a gun, I’m generally suspicious of police, I wouldn’t vote for a politician who supported pro-gun … laws. I mean, c’mon, I give money to incredible organizations that fight for equal justice.”
But then she concedes that pocketing the cellphone “was the smallest of interactions, which means this isn’t a big risk for me to admit, but in it, I could have been … George Zimmerman.”
Black New York entrepreneur Ama Yawson blogs:
"I personally can't cloak myself in absolute moral superiority because I am not yet able to observe all others in a completely neutral fashion without ascribing some negative or positive values to them based on the combination of their race, ethnicity, age, religion, clothing and or other characteristics. To the extent that George Zimmerman has come to represent prejudice then 'George Zimmerman' dwells within me. Does 'George Zimmerman' dwell within you?"
Revelations about Zimmerman’s values are important, both because they could help influence a potential jury and because they challenge a basic narrative that’s run notably along political lines: Liberal Americans and blacks largely condemn Zimmerman and a justice system that originally let him go free, while many conservatives have come to Zimmerman’s defense, saying there’s been a rush to judgment about his motives and the exact circumstances of how the fight started and Zimmerman reacted.
In what became the first personal glimpse of Zimmerman’s character, he took the stand Friday to apologize to Trayvon’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton.
"I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son," Zimmerman said Friday from the stand. "I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I was, and I did not know if he was armed or not."
The family called the apology disingeuous. But his attorney, Mark O’Mara, said he hoped that Zimmerman’s appearance on the stand and the nature of the evidence in the case would help “refocus” frustration and emotion about the handling of the case “away from George.”
Calling two previous run-ins with the law “run of the mill … for Florida,”Judge Kenneth Lester ruled that Zimmerman is not a flight risk and not a danger to society. Judge Lester allowed him to post a $150,000 bond and move out of state to a secret location while he awaits trial.
Even as his lawyer said he’s worried about Zimmerman’s safety amid numerous threats, he’s expected to be released from jail this weekend. Under the judge’s order, he must wear an electronic monitoring device, and he’s not allowed to carry a gun.
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