The rehabilitation of George Zimmerman has begun.
Robert Zimmerman Jr., George Zimmerman’s older brother, has launched a one-man PR effort, showing up all over CNN, on NPR, even finding time for Breitbart, to extol his brother’s essential goodness and the wisdom of the Seminole County jury that exonerated him of second-degree murder or manslaughter in the death of Trayvon Martin.
At first glance, Zimmerman is an impressive family spokesman.
Calmly, articulately and sometimes sternly, Robert has defended his little brother in a way only a loved one can do.
In particular, he has hammered the media for creating a “false narrative” about his brother, reserving special contempt for NBC, which edited the tape of George’s call to Sanford police to make it sound as if he offered up the information that Trayvon Martin was black, when in fact, a police operator asked him to describe the young man he was following. That was a huge blunder on NBC’s part.
And yet, he also appears to be sensitive to racial injustice. “I will say that Sanford had a history in its police department of having issues with race and equal application and equal access to justice in that community,” he told NPR’s Rachel Martin on Sunday. “I know that has nothing to do with George, but I can see where there were concerns, initially, that something may be afoot in Sanford. Unfortunately, the pegging of George as a white man was essential to get that narrative traction and get that ball rolling.” (The Zimmermans’ father is white; their mother is Peruvian.)
But Zimmerman is disingenuous when he criticizes people for injecting race into the story. In fact, he has done as much as anyone to racialize the case.
In numerous interviews, Zimmerman has subtly injected racial stereotypes into the case, echoing defense attorney Mark O’Mara’s line that Martin was not, as the prosecution portrayed him, a teenager armed with nothing more than Skittles, but an angry, dangerous young man armed with his fists, and a sidewalk.
“Trayvon Martin WAS armed,” Zimmerman told NPR. “He used the sidewalk against my brother’s head. He had whatever anger he brought with him when he confronted George and broke his nose. …He had something within him that he wouldn’t let up, his relentless attack despite George screaming for help. So he was not unarmed, and I really take exception to that notion.”
Last March, he tweeted a photograph of two black 17-year-olds with the slogan “A picture speaks a thousand words. Any questions?”
The boy on the right was Trayvon Martin, giving a double barreled middle finger salute to the camera. The boy on the left, throwing down gang signs, was De’Marquise Elkins, who has been charged with shooting a 1-year-old baby during a botched robbery.
He tweeted: “Lib media shld ask if what these2 black teens did 2 a woman&baby is the reason ppl think blacks mightB risky.”
He apologized after his brother’s attorneys publicly distanced themselves. “I made a serious error in judgment abt the way it wld convey & understand why it is offensive,” he tweeted.
When the trial started June 24, Robert Zimmerman went silent. That was a smart move, given the sometimes inflammatory nature of his public communication.
But once the defense team persuaded the only audience that mattered that George Zimmerman was not guilty of murder, the brother was back in the picture, and all over the news.
It has fallen to him to persuade the rest of the country that George Zimmerman may have killed Martin, but only because Martin gave him no choice.
Underlying his robust defense, though, is the poisonous attitude about race that is at the crux of the entire tragedy.
“We have to grow from this,” Robert Zimmerman told CNN’s Don Lemon on Saturday night. “I want to know what makes people angry enough to attack someone the way that Trayvon Martin did. I want to know if it is true, and I don’t know if it’s true, that Trayvon Martin was looking to procure firearms, was growing marijuana plants.”
Isn’t it fascinating how he sets up the social problem? He’s not disturbed that his own brother actually got a gun and used it to shoot Martin through the heart, he’s disturbed at the possibility that a black teenager might have talked about getting a gun.
But what he says after that is even more telling:
“I want to know that every minor, high-schooler, that would be reaching out in some way for help — and they may feel it’s by procuring firearms or whatever they may be doing — that they have some kind of help. I think that’s what George was trying to do when he mentored two black children, even when funding from the county was withdrawn, he and his wife continued to break that cycle of … misfortune, that these children’s father is serving a life sentence in prison. … I wonder how many of these people at rallies, calling for George’s death, calling for his capture dead or alive, I wonder how many of them mentored African American children.”
Calls for violence against George Zimmerman must be condemned. The system has spoken and though he will not go to prison, he will clearly pay a lasting personal price for killing Trayvon Martin.
But the racial assumptions that permeate Robert Zimmerman’s words are stunning. His most specious idea, couched as a question, is that thousands of people at rallies have never "mentored" black children.
Why would they need to mentor black children? They are fathering and mothering them. They're called parents.