Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

George Zimmerman: Social Justice Activist with a Gun?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

George Zimmerman: Social Justice Activist with a Gun?

Article excerpt

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?

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.

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?

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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 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. …

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