The man known as George Zimmerman first came to the attention of the media in connection with the case of Trayvon Martin: a Black man in Florida who was shot to death by Zimmerman. Since that time, however, Zimmerman has emerged again in the media several times due to incidents and reports that involve violence of some kind. The purpose of this sample essay is to explore this situation in a deeper way.
George Zimmerman and the media
- The essay will begin with an overview of the killing of Trayvon Martin that made Zimmerman a public persona in the first place.
- Then, it will consider some of the events between 2012 (the time of the killing) and 2015 that have resulted in continued coverage of Zimmerman by the media.
- After this, the essay will discuss the most recent event that has been reported by the media regarding Zimmerman. Finally, the essay will refer on some of the moral and sociological implications of the fact that Zimmerman has had an ongoing presence in the media in this way.
The killing of Trayvon Martin
On the 26th of February, 2012, Trayvon Martin was walking in a gated community in Florida. Zimmerman held the position of neighborhood watch coordinator within that community. Martin was there as the guest of family friends. It would seem that Martin was walking close to the houses in the neighborhood, in a way that awakened Zimmerman’s suspicions. As Barry, Kovalesi, Robertson, and Alvarez have commented on this situation:
“Perhaps someone up to no good—or, perhaps, someone disoriented in a maze of identical structures, ducking the raid and looking for the house he had left less than an hour before” (paragraph 27).
At some point, Martin realized that he was being watched by Zimmerman; and as a result, he began to walk faster. This only served to make Zimmerman even more suspicious within the context of the situation. Zimmerman was on the phone with the police; but at some point, he decided to leave his car and take matters into his own hands.
At this point, there is some confusion. According to some accounts (such as the one provided by Martin’s girlfriend, with whom he was on the phone during the situation), Zimmerman instigated conflict. According to others (such as Martin’s father), Martin punched Zimmerman in the face upon being approached by the latter. Either way, the two of them were eventually wrestling on the ground (see Barry et al.).
There is a fundamental disagreement in testimony regarding whether it was Martin or Zimmerman who was the real aggressor, and whether Zimmerman was acting in a legally self-defensive or illegally aggressive way. What is clear, though, is that Zimmerman left his car and pursued Martin even when explicitly told not to by the police; and that the situation ended with Zimmerman shooting Martin dead.
This case went to trial, and Zimmerman was in fact found not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin. As Botelho and Yan have written:
“The jury had three choices: to find Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder; to find him guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter; or to find him not guilty” (paragraph 9-10).
Morally speaking, what this meant was that the jury was not convinced that Zimmerman had acted in a way that was intentionally or primarily meant to end Martin’s life—which also implies that they accepted the possibility that Zimmerman was acting in self-defense. The fact that Zimmerman did in fact kill Martin was not in question within the case. What was in question, however, was whether Zimmerman was trying to protect his own life (with the death of Martin being an unfortunate side effect), or whether he actually wanted to kill Martin. Confronted with this specific question, the jury found that it was at least plausible that Zimmerman had acted out of self-defense.
Incidents involving George Zimmerman
The controversy surrounding the original case regarding Trayvon Martin has been exacerbated by the simple fact that Zimmerman has not only continued to get into situations that have drawn attention to him, but specifically to situations involving violence. One incident, for example, occurred in 2013, when
“George Zimmerman was charged with felony aggravated assault after allegedly pointing a shotgun at his girlfriend. He was also charged with two misdemeanors—domestic violence battery and criminal mischief—in connection with the same incident” (Yan, paragraph 17).
According to Stanglin, Bacon, and Winter’s account of the situation, Zimmerman threatened his girlfriend after she had told him that she felt threatened and intended to call the police. He proceeded to break property and push his girlfriend out of the house. His girlfriend eventually dropped the charges against Zimmerman, for unknown reasons. However, the events reported above clearly did happen.
This was not a unique event; much the opposite, it gives every impression of being part of a broader lifelong pattern of behavior. The Associated Press, for example, has indicated that in the year 2005,
“Zimmerman was arrested and accused of resisting an officer with violence near the University of Central Florida campus after a scuffle with police,” and also that in the same year, “Zimmerman’s former fiancee fled for a restraining order against him, alleging domestic violence” (paragraphs 2-3).
Moreover, prior to the situation with his girlfriend discussed above, Zimmerman also apparently had a violent encounter with the woman who was then his wife, as well as her father. Across all of these situations, Zimmerman has shown an uncanny ability to somehow avoid actual prosecution and to have the charges against him dropped. However, the pattern is clearly disconcerting: most people, after all, clearly do not have such a consistent string of run-ins with law enforcement within the nation, and especially not for violent reasons.
The most recent incident involving Zimmerman
Most recently, Zimmerman has once again emerged in the news due to a situation regarding a man named Matthew Apperson. Apparently, Zimmerman and Apperson encountered each other in 2014 as a result of an incident regarding road rage. As Dahm has written:
“Zimmerman threatened to kill a driver during a road rage incident in Lake Mary and later showed up at the man’s workplace, according to police. The rod rage incident happened Tuesday, Lake Mary Police told Local 6, but the other driver declined to press charges, so Zimmerman was not arrested” (paragraphs 1-2).
These details would not have any particular interest, if it were not for the case of Trayvon Martin. In particular, just as Zimmerman instigated a violent situation by leaving his car and choosing to pursue Martin on his own, he also first made a death threat and then followed up on Apperson in a hostile way within the most recent incident that is being considered here. Apperson declined to press charges.
But the story does not end there. Apperson shot at Zimmerman in May 2015. There would seem to be some legal and moral confusion in this case as well, however, due to the fact that Apperson was allegedly “fixated” on Zimmerman in an unhealthy way. As Toppo has reported:
“In the police report on the May 11 incident, Apperson told police that Zimmerman pointed a gun at him and said, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ But Zimmerman told police that Apperson drove up behind him, yelled an expletive, then told him: ‘You owe me your life. The only reason I didn’t press charges on you is because I wanted to kill you myself'” (paragraph 8).
This is clearly a bizarre account of the situation. It could reasonably be suggested that in a certain sense, all possible interpretations of this situation would be equally bizarre. However, in light of Zimmerman’s broader history of violence and conflict with the police, there would seem to be at least some prima facie reason to believe that the case regarding Apperson is perhaps more convoluted than a matter of straightforward aggression by Zimmerman against Apperson.
A moral and sociological reflection
Morally speaking, the attention being dedicated to Zimmerman over time by the media could perhaps be understood as a kind of ongoing study in character. In particular: given the controversy surrounding the not guilty verdict that Zimmerman received in the Trayvon Martin case, findings regarding Zimmerman’s character that could potentially support the opinion that the verdict was unjust can be expected to receive continued attention.
For example, many commentators, as well as large sections of the American public in general, hold the opinion that the not guilty verdict is the result of unjust race relations within the United States, and thus conceptually connected to other cases of brutality against Black men, such as (for example) the case of Freddie Gray in the city of Baltimore, Maryland. The more reports there are that violence is an essential element of Zimmerman’s character, the less plausible it seems that Zimmerman actually was acting in self-defense in the case of Martin, as the jury ultimately decided when choosing to acquit the defendant.
From another perspective, however, it could be suggested that it is unjust in and of itself that Zimmerman is increasingly becoming a pop cultural icon of some kind. As the social theorist Debord has argued, contemporary society could be characterized as a society of spectacle, in when abstract images have become more or less detached from the realities to which they refer.
One of the results of this situation is that the moral dimension of actual political situations tends to fall out of the picture: the idea of Zimmerman may become more important than the man Zimmerman, and what he actually has or has not done. In particular, it seems somehow perverse that Zimmerman is becoming more “famous” than Trayvon Martin, when Zimmerman was in fact responsible, one way or the other, for the death of Martin.
In a way, then ongoing media coverage of Zimmerman constitutes a kind of “spectacular” trial of character that is in point of fact not capable of having any real legal consequences. For example, whatever Zimmerman may or may not do in the future, it will not be possible to change the verdict that was reached in the case of Trayvon Martin. Likewise, the peculiar fact that Zimmerman has not in fact been convicted of any violent crime in particular means that technically speaking, Zimmerman is still innocent of all the charges that have been brought against him over time, and there is thus no basis of legal evidence for even concluding that he does in fact have a violent character.
Common sense and public perception would clearly seem to indicate that Zimmerman does in fact have a violent temperament; but this is different from establishing a legal foundation for producing actual moral consequences. In a certain sense, then, the ongoing media coverage of Zimmerman can be understood as an exercise in spectacle and futility, insofar as there is no real reason to believe that this ongoing coverage will in any meaningful way contribute to the actual moral cause of justice.
In summary, this essay has consisted of a discussion of the recurrence of Zimmerman in the media. The essay began with a description of the original event of the killing of Trayvon Martin, proceeded to consider other incidents that have developed over time, and reflected on the most recent situation that has brought Zimmerman into the media’s limelight once again. Finally, the essay engaged in a critical reflection. The main conclusion that has been reached here is that there is a substantial gap between the emerging public perception of Zimmerman on the one hand, and an actual legal foundation for doing anything about it on the other.
Associated Press. “A List of George Zimmerman’s Past Run-Ins with the Law.” Fox News 18 Nov. 2013. Web. 20 May 2015. .
Barry, Dan, Serge F. Kovaleski, Campbell Robertson, and Lizette Alvarez. “Race, Tragedy and Outrage Collide after a Shot in Florida.” New York Times. 1 Apr. 2012. Web. 20 May 2015. review-of-ideals.html?_r=0>.
Botelho, Greg, and Holly Yan. “George Zimmerman Found Not Guilty of Murder in Trayvon Martin Case.” CNN. 14 Jul. 2013. Web. 20 May 2015. .
Dahm, Daniel. “George Zimmerman Threatened to Kill Man in Road Rage Incident, Florida Police Say.” ClickOrlando. 12 Sep. 2014. Web. 20 May 2015. .
Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Oakland: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2014. Print.
Stanglin, Doug, John Bacon, and Michael Winter. “Zimmerman Accused of Pointing Shotgun at Girlfriend.” USA Today. 18 Nov. 2013. Web. 20 May 2015. .
Toppo, Greg. “Police: Florida Shooter Had ‘Fixation’ with George Zimmerman.” USA Today. 19 May 2015. Web. 20 May 2015. report/27583995/>.
Yan, Holly. “George Zimmerman’s Encounters with the Law and Public Spotlight.” CNN. 12 May 2015. Web. 20 May 2015. zimmerman-timeline/>.