FLORIDA, July 5, 2013 — George Zimmerman doesn’t exist; he never has.
Not the George Zimmerman you’ve read and heard about, the man excoriated as a racist, a vigilante, a man recklessly indifferent to life ― to Trayvon Martin’s life.
George Zimmerman’s brother Robert knows a different man. He believes that in the politicized rush to punish someone, a man has been replaced with a caricature; in the rush to destroy the caricature, the life of the man has been irreparably damaged, with all the reckless, vigilante indifference supposedly meted out by George.
For all the heavy media coverage of this trial, one simple, unanswered question sits at the heart of the story: Who is George Zimmerman? What kind of man was he before his life collided with Trayvon Martin’s?
Robert Zimmerman has some answers.
When he speaks of his big brother, Robert tells the story of a bond that reaches back to childhood. The Zimmerman boys grew up together in Manassas, a northern Virginia suburb of Washington.
“(T)here’s obviously childhood and then there’s early adulthood,” Robert Zimmerman says from his home in Florida. “(D)uring childhood, we were always a dynamic duo; like sort of a unit everywhere we went.”
Because of this, members of their community referred to them as “the boys.”
During their youth, people often remarked that the two had a strong likeness, though the Zimmerman brothers did not share this view. Each wished to maintain his personal identity, but they still looked out for one another.
This was never more important — until the Martin shooting — than when Robert publicly came out as gay. He was nineteen at the time.
“(W)hen I came out to family, it caused some confusion and a lot of, you know, feelings associated with that confusion; not really understanding what that meant and stuff like that,” Robert says.
“George was the first person who reached out. He came to my house, he reached out to my partner at the time, who I was actually with for eleven years, and tried to make me and him feel very comfortable and was very supportive because I had been true to myself and, even though it might be a little bit inconvenient or misunderstood … honesty was the best policy, and that if I was being true to who I was … that’s all that mattered and everything would work out fine.”
“George graduated high school when he was seventeen years old,” Robert explains. An uncle in the insurance field had a job to offer at the time, “and George wanted to go directly into the workforce, and was very ambitious about being … like his uncle was with insurance.”
George Zimmerman moved to the suburban town of Lake Mary, located between Sanford and Orlando, where he began working for his uncle. He later moved to Sanford, which boasted greater business and educational opportunities.
Zimmerman would eventually achieve success in the insurance field and marry his sweetheart, Sherrie. After awhile, despite a few minor roadblocks, he was well established and seemed on his way to economic success and civic involvement. He hoped to follow in his father’s footsteps as a magistrate judge someday, because he saw it as an important public service.
Then his life collided with Trayvon Martin’s.
With each passing day, the case against Zimmerman seems to crumble. It was never strong, and at first the state of Florida declined to prosecute. But soon the picture of elfin-faced young Martin was plastered all over the internet. The media began to build the case of a slight and innocent honor student who was out for nothing more than a bag of Skittles when he was racially profiled and gunned down by the hulking white Zimmerman.
No charges were filed until a highly controversial special prosecutor stepped in amidst social outrage. A first-degree murder charge was clearly unsupportable, and the prosecution went for second-degree. Angela Corey didn’t even allow the case be presented to a grand jury. That says more than almost anything else possibly could.
It turned out that a major media outlet, one of the leaders in the pack attack on Zimmerman, had doctored a damning phone transcript to turn him into a racist. Racism no longer fits as part of the prosecution narrative in this case. It turns out that Zimmerman really did suffer injuries that night, that the innocent kid in Martin’s pictures had grown and wasn’t so slight or innocent.
Even if he is found not guilty, it appears all but certain that Zimmerman and his family will leave Florida without looking back. Had he never run into Martin, there’s no telling how bright Zimmerman’s future would have been.