George Zimmerman had not even been booked on the latest domestic violence allegations when an avalanche of angry tweets and Facebook postings, literally hundreds of them, crushed my computer. The scolding messages were essentially the same.
‘See, we told you he was a murderous creep, how do you feel now about defending him?’ ‘Was his girlfriend wearing a hoodie? Is that why he assaulted her?’ ‘Geraldo you own George Zimmerman now, how does it feel to have helped a psycho escape justice?’ ‘Justice for Trayvon Martin.’ ‘No justice, no peace.’
If you’re losing, you can kill rather than be killed or even be badly hurt. Don’t like the law, change the law, but don’t blame the legal commentator for the bad news.
- Geraldo Rivera
The February 2012 killing by Zimmerman of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin divided the nation. From the White House to college campuses to NBA teams to minority communities across the land, there was rage and frustration at the initial reluctance of local Florida authorities to arrest the overzealous neighborhood watch captain. Then, after 44 days, when Zimmerman was arrested and charged with murder by a special prosecutor, conservatives and other advocates of gun rights rallied to his defense. ‘He has a right to defend himself.’ ‘It was self-defense.’ ‘With that hoodie on, the kid looked like every gangbanger who ever stuck up a 7/11.’ ‘Zimmerman had the right to stand his ground.’
As callers to my daily radio show revealed, no case since O.J. Simpson’s 1994 double murder trial split the nation so clearly along racial lines. Black callers wanted Zimmerman convicted; white callers rooted for his acquittal.
I had two main points during that melancholy saga.
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First and most inflammatory, I said that Trayvon was a victim of his hoodie as much as he was a victim of the hair-trigger watchman. If you look like a thug, people are going to treat you like a thug. Zimmerman didn’t recognize Trayvon because the teenager was a stranger, living temporarily with his dad. Yes, of course the kid had every legal right to be where he was, but Zimmerman didn’t know that. And on that dark and rainy night, Trayvon looked just like the other hoodie-wearing young black kids who had been burglarizing the Sanford, Florida complex in the months leading up to their tragic confrontation.
Everyone from hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons to my own son Gabriel blasted and mocked my position. What was I saying? That white men have the right to kill black kids if the victims are wearing hoodies? No, I sighed.
Which leads me to my second point concerning the murder charge. Under Florida’s expansive self-defense law, all George Zimmerman had to do to win acquittal was convince the jury that he was in reasonable fear of bodily harm or death at the time he killed Trayvon. It was never about Stand Your Ground. Once prosecutors finally released the color photos of Zimmerman’s banged up head, there was no chance of a conviction, certainly not of murder. He looked like he was in the fight of his life.
I wasn’t making a value judgment when I predicted he would be acquitted by the all-female, no black jury. It was a no-brainer to any non-pandering lawyer worth his license. Even though Zimmerman may have provoked the confrontation, as long as he was legally watching his neighborhood, and at some point became reasonably afraid for his life, he could kill Trayvon to spare himself from death or serious bodily injury.
Under Florida law, there are no innocent participants in a fight. If you’re losing, you can kill rather than be killed or even be badly hurt. Don’t like the law, change the law, but don’t blame the legal commentator for the bad news.
Now comes the post-acquittal conduct of George Zimmerman. Unlike Casey Anthony, the hated Florida mom who many believe got away with murdering her two-year-old, the ex-watch captain has refused to go away. There have been his two widely publicized traffic stops in which the presence of guns was prominently mentioned. Then there was Zimmerman’s allegedly violent run-in with his ex-wife Shellie and her father, partly caught on tape, and also involving guns.
Now there is the alleged assault on girlfriend Samantha Scheibe, the presence of an arsenal of weapons including an AR assault rifle, a shotgun and one or more pistols, and the 911 call memorializing the allegation of him using the butt of the shotgun to smash her personal property after earlier pointing a gun to her face.
Now back to the deluge of negativity I got on social media. ‘What do you think about your boy now?’ etc.
George Zimmerman has given us all plenty of reason to suspect he is a creepy, borderline gun-nut. Guns are sacred, not to be used as accessories in domestic disputes. You don’t point them at your girlfriend’s face. If the allegations are true, it is a felonious assault.
So he may be nuts now, but was he nuts then? That’s the bigger issue, whether he is crazy because of the trauma of Trayvon’s death and his trial and being broke and besieged and aimless or was he crazy the night he killed the kid?
With Trayvon dead, and the verdict rendered, why does it matter?
Remember Florida’s lush self-defense law? Zimmerman needed to be reasonably afraid for his life. On the other hand, if he weren’t, if instead he was a hunter looking for game that night, picking a fight because with his hand near that concealed weapon ready to draw and fire he knew he had the advantage, the verdict would have been closer.
Still, he would have been acquitted, because of the hoodie.
Geraldo Rivera currently serves as a roaming correspondent-at-large for Fox News Channel. He joined the network in 2001 as a war correspondent.