Recently, I did a radio interview for my book “White Trash,” a drama about life in a rural Texas town in which a popular young black man is killed and everyone suspects everyone else as racist, intolerant and that stupidity runs rampant. Following the interview, the radio host asked me for my thoughts on the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case.
I was hesitant.
This is a hotbed for emotions, accusations, misconceptions and unfair stereotypes. What we know is that George Zimmerman is frequently identified in the media as wanting a career in law enforcement. We know that he was frustrated by a rash of break-ins in his neighborhood and that he had taken on the role as Neighborhood Watcher. In fact, we know that he was lawfully carrying a 9mm Kel-Tex pistol. We know that Zimmerman called the police about a teenager whom he thought didn’t belong there. Also, he was told to stay in his car, but instead he followed on foot. And, we know a fight broke out after the confrontation and that a 17-year old was killed.
After that, things get sketchy. Zimmerman’s father wrote a one-page letter to the Orlando Sentinel stating, “At no time did George follow or confront Mr. Martin. When the true details of the event became public, and I hope that will be soon, everyone should be outraged by the treatment in the media.”
Ah. But George did get out of his car to follow Trayvon, he did confront the teenager whom he deemed “suspicious” because he did not seem to be rightfully there in the neighborhood under Zimmerman’s self-assigned watch.
Let’s be clear about something, i.e. Trayvon may have been a bit of a punk. He smoked weed and he was in his system when he died – a fact that was made admissible in court. We know he had been suspended from a Miami high school and suspected of burglary by virtue of having women’s jewelry in his possession. He had some gold teeth and tattoos. But on the evening of Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla., he was shot and left to die in the nearby gated community where his father and stepmother live. He was there because he’d been suspended three times from his high school and his parents (divorced) wanted to get Trayvon away from the school and, presumably, some outside influences. As a parent, I understand this way of thinking and as an educator who works daily with 18, 19, 20 and 21 year olds from lower- to middle- to upper-middle class kids, Trayvon’s behavior is (sadly) not all that unusual. So I wasn’t unduly shocked to hear Trayvon was acting out as a 17 year old who needed to have a reality check in his life.
Let me also say that if we’re now allowing tattoos as a gauge to shoot people, I know about 60 middle-aged women with tramp stamps who need to run for the hills!
In the book, “White Trash,” the murdered black man stands as a symbol of injustice and racial intolerance. Unlike the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case, however, “White Trash” is funny with an array of quirky characters and, at the end, a feeling of justice served. Real life can’t always be that neat (or fair).
Somehow a seemingly clear case of an overzealous, wanna-be cop unfairly identifying a kid as suspicious because he was carrying Skittles ended in homicide. Zimmerman, the instigator and only survivor of the fight, has claimed self-defense which launched a national debate. Trayvon’s death has become about more gun control, stand-your-ground rights, possible racial profiling and a somewhat flawed justice system. National polls show that the majority of Americans want to see George Zimmerman serve time. Alternatively, the popular minority cling to Trayvon’s past behavior and Zimmerman’s broken nose as evidence of self-defense.
This tragic event has gained international news coverage, e.g., British newspapers had headlines about Trayvon such as, “Drugs, Truancy, Graffiti, Burglary Tools and Did He Attack a School Bus Driver, Too?” In contrast, there was less reporting about Zimmerman’s brush with the law and, significantly, violent behavior with women. The jury of six women never knew that Zimmerman’s female cousin testified that Zimmerman molested her for 10 years, when they were both children, starting when she was just 6 years old. The jury of Zimmerman’s peers never learned that in 2005, Zimmerman’s former fiancé filed a restraining order against him, citing domestic violence.
Also, what the jury never heard that the ex-fiancé, Veronica Zauzo, claimed Zimmerman would troll her neighborhood to see where she was, confronted and then became aggressive with her. After she filed the report, Zimmerman responded by also filing a petition, naming her as the aggressor and that he acted in self-defense.
Ladies and gentlemen, in the book writing business, this is called a scene-setter in which you give your readers a peek into the true character’s behaviors. He was trolling, he confronted, things turned ugly and he claimed self defense. Zimmerman has a pattern of behaviors that was allowed to be overlooked. While many details will forever remain a mystery, we still know that an otherwise innocent kid is dead.
Four times the Sanford Police Department would re-write their report on Zimmerman’s actions before the case was over, but there is no missing the overall sentiment of the department. “The encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin was ultimately avoidable by Zimmerman if Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle and awaited the arrival of law enforcement or conversely if he had identified himself to Martin as a concerned citizen and initiated dialog in an effort to dispel each party’s concern.”
But he didn’t.
I saw a political cartoon with the caption, “Who scares YOU?” I looked at my choices: a black man in a hoodie, a white punk, a tattoo-ed bubba or a police officer. It’s all such bull. You can’t judge someone because of tattoos or a ball cap, a hoodie or skin color.
The reality is this. We’ve all looked at one person or another and made judgments. It’s human nature. We don’t have to like the way someone looks (right or wrong) but we, as a nation, cannot allow others to stalk and confront with malicious intent, to take the law into their own hands without consequence. We are better than this.
Now residing in “the nicest city in Texas,” Alexandra Allred is the author of numerous books, including White Trash, Damaged Goods and the Allie Lindell series. Visit her website, www.alexandratheauthor, or Twitter @alexandraallred but always check out her column the WDL as she ponders all things Waxahachie and beyond its borders.