Curious George

George Zimmerman on trial
George Zimmerman on trial

It’s not easy to warm up to George Zimmerman as he sits silently at his trial for second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin. How do we read his expressionless, stoic frumpiness, stuffed into that gray suit? HIs eyes dart around the courtroom, at the witnesses, the jury, then down to a sheet of paper where he jots down notes–is he basking in smug self-importance, fear, regret? Is it all a bad dream for him, or is he confident that he will be cleared and strike a victory for those who confront punks that jump up to get beat down?

“Fucking punks, these assholes, they always get away.” These are Zimmerman’s now-famous words, repeated by his defense lawyer yesterday after his inexplicable knock-knock joke designed, I guess, to break the ice with the jury. It’s good old American racial paranoia, a tell-tale sign that Zimmerman has acculturated very well to this Central Florida community that once demanded Jackie Robinson be run out o town when Branch Rickey took his Brooklyn Dodgers there in 1946 for spring training. Zimmerman, whose mother is Peruvian, may or may not have an added layer of anxiety to his desire to fit into the mainstream, but it’s worth noting that American discourse is increasingly fraught with language that targets the constant threat of real or imagined enemies.

Perhaps Zimmerman spent much of his young adulthood sitting around watching COPS, or the proliferating versions of CSI shows, or many of our political and military leaders, who voice an eerily similar message. The career choices for residents of downscale suburbia are not legion–for so many young people without access to elite education, some of the only viable options are law enforcement and the military, and developing a healthy dose of resentment toward perceived bad guys can be a leg up. The process of identifying and targeting bad guys, and, as increasingly used in military-speak, the “bad neighborhoods” of the world, no doubt has a hand in creating the likes of George Zimmerman.

This is an age when the mayor of New York and his police chief can assert that if an inspector general or other court-appointed monitor is imposed to oversee their heavy-handed stop and frisk program, it will help the “bad guys.”  The Obama administration’s “Insider Threat Program” considers that government employees who are going through divorce, financial problems, or who read The Onion or are potential leakers who should be reported on. It seems Zimmerman’s mistake was reading “If you see something, say something,” as “If you see someone, shoot someone.”

It appears that ultimately this trial will prove that Zimmerman strayed too far from just reporting a reasonable suspicion–most of the audio tapes of interviews with the police reveal law enforcement’s disapproval of, if not revulsion from his actions. The most fascinating moment of the trial will no doubt be Zimmerman’s own testimony, which is expected since he is claiming self-defense. It’s hard to imagine how he can present a coherent rationale for why he shot Trayvon, whose criminal tendencies were limited to walking in the rain, buying Skittles, and wearing a hoodie.

This recent Esquire post shines a light on Zimmerman’s skittish attempts to use a volunteer position on a neighborhood watch group as a platform for settling America’s differences with bad guys. The tape reveals his continued reluctance to give his last name and his address, as well as vacantly agreeing he should end his chase, just as he accelerated toward his victim. He comes off as yet another half-assed hero with a target identified and a gun in his hand.

George’s curiosity will most likely be roundly condemned and receive an appropriate punishment. But the grim dystopia of good guys and bad guys that we can’t seem to shake will remain, and more innocent victims will die before we ever got to know them.


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