Reuters’ Chris Francescani has written a detailed article that paints a far more sympathetic portrait of George Zimmerman than most media coverage to date.
Francescani visited the Twin Lakes neighbourhood in Sanford, Florida where Zimmerman shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in February.
He talked to many residents of the neighbourhood, who provided details about Zimmerman and a recent crime spree that had plagued the neighbourhood in the months before the shooting.
The George Zimmerman that Francescani describes is quite different from the “violent racist vigilante” that many have made him out to be.
The background information doesn’t make what happened any less tragic, but it does provide more colour about Zimmerman’s behaviour.
Here are some of the details that Francescani reports:
- 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 licence
- 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 (he was 22 at the time)
- 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 neighbour 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 neighbourhood, including Zimmerman, asked the neighbourhood association to create a neighbourhood watch. Zimmerman was asked to run it.
- In the next month, two more houses in the neighbourhood 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 neighbour’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.
Again, none of this makes Trayvon Martin’s death any less tragic. But doesn’t it make you feel a bit differently about Zimmerman?
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