Monday, April 30, 2012

New portrait of Zimmerman begs the question: Was the Martin tragedy an “inevitable” result in a formerly “family-friendly” community rocked by crime?

I was at a Kent Safeway last week when after picking-up a few comestibles I went into a checkout line in where a black female was behind the checkout counter. In front of me was another black female, and the checkout clerk treated her with great deference, and even reached over the counter to place her small bags into her cart. I was next. The checkout clerk said nothing, did not even look at me. She took my money, gave me my change, and I took my bag walked away. But before I left I heard her greet the white people behind me with great warmth, as if she was trying to make a political point of it. And indeed she was: She obviously took me for a “Mexican,” and the media which is trying to avoid the anti-Hispanic bigotry angle of the Trayvon Martin story here again proves how either ignorant or deceitful it is. The Daniel Adkins killing continues to be ignored, and having mentioned last week the beating death of Luis Ramirez in the racially-charged Pennsylvania town of Shenandoah, it should be noted that the teenagers who killed Ramirez were—like Trayvon Martin—“unarmed.”

While I find the whole episode involving George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin to be disturbing, unnecessary and tragic, I refuse to be cowed by people who would accuse me of “condoning” the shooting. There is far worse than this happening in inner city neighborhoods and housing projects every day, yet it is so commonplace and people who are willing to testify against the killers are few, that someone like me who is sensitive to hypocrisy can’t help but take note of it in the Martin case. Although CNN, NPR and other news outlets continue the victim drumbeat, if one reads the comments sections of their website posts, one cannot help but to observe that people are becoming less and less convinced that the line the media is telling them is the truth; given the knowable evidence which the Florida prosecutor, Angela Corey, and the pro-Martin militants purposefully disregard for political reasons, it is difficult not to understand (if not condone) Zimmerman’s actions in a frightening moment when a “young child” sucker-punched him, pushed him to the ground and repeatedly slammed his head against a sidewalk. It seems likely that Zimmerman thought he was going to be seriously injured or worse, and despite his pleadings for help, no one was coming to his aid; in a moment where a kind of fighting madness occurs where one sees only red (as a Civil War soldier described his senses in a typically violent firefight), he acted with instinctual self-preservation. This was not the case in the Adkins killing, however; Adkins’ killer was within the safety of his car, and had plenty of time to digest the anger of a developmentally-disabled man walking his dog who was nearly hit by the car, rather than roll down his widow and fire his gun.

While the Trayvon Martin partisans become increasingly angered by any investigation into Martin’s past history, and accuse those who would dare to question the current propaganda as “right-wing,” any examination of Zimmerman beyond the demonizing rhetoric also inspires contempt. But Chris Francescani, a reporter for Reuters, decided he wanted to find out who the “real” George Zimmerman was. What he discovered couldn’t be further afield of the current media portrayal. Posted last week, Francescani’s story reveals a man who—unlike Trayvon Martin—was trying to be a law-abiding, responsible member of society who “comes from a deeply Catholic background and was taught in his early years to do right by those less fortunate. He was raised in a racially integrated household and himself has black roots through an Afro-Peruvian great-grandfather - the father of the maternal grandmother who helped raise him.”

Zimmerman’s father, Robert, was a Korean and Vietnam War veteran, was employed at the Pentagon and later served as a magistrate in Fairfax County's 19th Judicial District. His mother, Gladys, was a Peruvian immigrant who taught physical education. A devout Catholic, she was active in community outreach programs; “Gladys would bring young George along with her on ‘home visits’ to poor families, said a family friend, Teresa Post.” According to Post, who is also Peruvian, "It was part of their upbringing to know that there are people in need, people more in need than themselves,” and she recalled when living with the family the evening prayer sessions in the racially-diverse household.

The disgust one feels about the racial propaganda being posited by the Martin militants is only exacerbated when one reads the following in the Reuters report:

“Zimmerman's maternal grandmother, Cristina, who had lived with the Zimmermans since 1978, worked as a babysitter for years during Zimmerman's childhood. For several years she cared for two African-American girls who ate their meals at the Zimmerman house and went back and forth to school each day with the Zimmerman children.”

George Zimmerman was an altar boy at a Catholic church for ten years. "He wasn't the type where, you know, 'I'm being forced to do this,' and a dragging-his-feet Catholic," said one parishioner. "He was an altar boy for years, and then worked in the rectory too. He has a really good heart." Zimmerman, who is bilingual, was even asked by the school principle at his elementary school to be a translator with immigrant parents; he was only 10. At the age of 15 he had three part-time jobs nights and weekends. Then, “On his own at 18, George got a job at an insurance agency and began to take classes at night to earn a license to sell insurance. He grew friendly with a real estate agent named Lee Ann Benjamin, who shared office space in the building, and later her husband, John Donnelly, a Sanford attorney.” Zimmerman “impressed” Donnelly as a “real go-getter”—working days and going to school at night. In 2004, Zimmerman opened an Allstate insurance office with an African-American friend as a partner. This is your “racist.”

The media’s focus on Zimmerman’s life concern his troubles in 2005, when his business failed, his engagement to a woman was broken off when both were given restraining orders against the other, and Zimmerman was charged with resisting arrest and battery after shoving an undercover alcohol-control agent who was arresting a friend of Zimmerman’s. The charges were dropped after Zimmerman agreed to attend an anger-management program. According to police reports, this was also the year that Zimmerman was robbed at gunpoint while eating at a Chilli’s restaurant.

Zimmerman married Shellie Dean in 2007, and moved to a town house in the Retreat at Twin Lakes neighborhood. Zimmerman worked at a car dealership and a mortgage company, while attending classes at Seminole State College with the intent of earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice. He was one credit short of that goal when the Martin shooting occurred. The media reported that Zimmerman had been "kicked out" of the school, but in reality he was prevented from completing the program because the school administrators were afraid for the safety of both Zimmerman and other students if "trouble" visited the school.

Despite being the victim of the armed robbery in 2005, Zimmerman did not own a gun until 2009, when after a neighbor’s pit bull “menaced” he and his wife several times, police suggested they protect themselves by purchasing a gun rather than use pepper spray, as Zimmerman considered using. Zimmerman took firearms training and purchased a Kel-Tec 9mm handgun. “By June 2011, Zimmerman's attention had shifted from a loose pit bull to a wave of robberies that rattled the community, called the Retreat at Twin Lakes. The homeowners association asked him to launch a neighborhood watch, and Zimmerman would begin to carry the Kel-Tec on his regular, dog-walking patrol - a violation of neighborhood watch guidelines but not a crime,” writes Francescani.

Twin Lakes didn’t just have problems with pit bulls; burglaries and home invasions rocked the neighborhood last year. “Previously a family-friendly, first-time homeowner community, it was devastated by the recession that hit the Florida housing market, and transient renters began to occupy some of the 263 town houses in the complex. Vandalism and occasional drug activity were reported, and home values plunged. One resident who bought his home in 2006 for $250,000 said it was worth $80,000 today.” The Sanford police department received calls for at least eight robberies in the neighborhood since 2011, and many more went unreported or ignored by police. “Twin Lakes residents said dozens of reports of attempted break-ins and would-be burglars casing homes had created an atmosphere of growing fear in the neighborhood.”

In cases where there were witnesses to the crimes, the perpetrators were in the main identified as young black men—including a teenager who simply walked-up to Zimmerman’s front porch and robbed a bicycle. "Let's talk about the elephant in the room. I'm black, OK?" a woman who lives in the neighborhood told Francescani, refusing to be identified because she feared a "backlash" from blacks who supported the current version of events. Looking directly into the reporter's eyes, she said ‘There were black boys robbing houses in this neighborhood. That's why George was suspicious of Trayvon Martin."

Last summer, Twin Lakes was rocked by news of a Hispanic resident whose home was invaded by two black men. Writes Francescani, “On August 3, Olivia Bertalan was at home with her infant son while her husband, Michael, was at work. She watched from a downstairs window, she said, as two black men repeatedly rang her doorbell and then entered through a sliding door at the back of the house. She ran upstairs, locked herself inside the boy's bedroom, and called a police dispatcher, whispering frantically.” Bertalan armed herself with a pair of scissors while trying to keep her crying child quiet; when police arrived, they interrupted the two black teens attempt to steal a television set, both of whom escaped through a backdoor. This was the kind of thing Zimmerman was referring to when he told the 911 dispatcher that he was tired of people getting away with these crimes.

Following the incident, Zimmerman visited Bertalan, offered help if she felt “unsafe” and even purchased a stronger lock for her to place on the sliding door. "He was so mellow and calm, very helpful and very, very sweet," she told Francescani. "We didn't really know George at first, but after the break-in we talked to him on a daily basis. People were freaked out. It wasn't just George calling police ... we were calling police at least once a week." Last September, residents had a meeting with the homeowners association, and Zimmerman was asked to be the neighborhood “watch” captain. Within two weeks, another robbery and the vandalizing of a new home occurred. Police stepped-up their patrols, to little avail, and an e-newsletter for the community advised residents to “call our captain” after contacting police.

Then on February 2 of this year, Zimmerman called police in regard to a young black male looking inside a house with the residents out. "’I don't know what he's doing. I don't want to approach him, personally,’ Zimmerman said in the call, which was recorded. The dispatcher advised him that a patrol car was on the way. By the time police arrived, according to the dispatch report, the suspect had fled.” Four days later, two roofers reported that two black males lingering in the yard of a home that was later reported burglarized, in which a laptop and gold jewelry were taken. When one of the roofers observed one of the men the next day, he called the police; the stolen laptop was found in the backpack of the 18-year-old, Emmanuel Burgess—who was also the man that Zimmerman reported peering inside the empty house; Burgess also had a juvenile record that suggested that he was a career petty criminal.

Life was not going well for Zimmerman at the time; both his father and grandmother were in the hospital, and he spent many nights sleeping on a couch in the hospital to be near them. Then came that fateful night, when Zimmerman spotted a man acting in a way that he found all too familiar. "’We've had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there's a real suspicious guy,’ Zimmerman said, as Trayvon Martin returned home from the store. The last time Zimmerman had called police, to report Burgess, he followed protocol and waited for police to arrive. They were too late, and Burgess got away. This time, Zimmerman was not so patient…These assholes, they always get away.'"

Placed in context, it is understandable, if no less tragic, what then occurred. Like many locales, this was a community under siege. Zimmerman took personal responsibility for a situation that even the police could not control, and now we see what could occur. This is what we learn when the media actually does its homework, instead of disseminating mistruths and propaganda.

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