Pixel Tracker

Monday, February 18 , 2019, 11:53 am | Fair 55º

 
 
 
 

Diane Dimond: George Zimmerman Is a Cautionary Tale for Volunteers

We’re taught from an early age that we should “do unto others.” To help combat terrorism, we are told that if we “see something, say something.” We have respect for those who volunteer their time at churches, hospitals, rural firehouses and neighborhood watch programs.

We can all probably agree it is a good thing to be involved. It is a bad thing to get overly involved.

I hope all volunteers are watching what’s happening to George Zimmerman in a Sanford, Fla., courtroom. He’s on trial for second-degree murder in the shooting death of a 17-year-old African-American named Trayvon Martin. If convicted, this onetime captain of his neighborhood watch faces 25 years to life in prison. I’m sure in his mind Zimmerman thought of himself as a good Samaritan for helping keep his neighborhood safe.

After a rash of burglaries at his condo complex, Zimmerman — who is a multiracial Hispanic — was automatically on guard last February as he drove to the grocery store. He spotted a young stranger — Trayvon Martin — meandering through the complex with the hood of his sweatshirt up as a shield against the evening’s rain. Zimmerman, 29, called in a suspicious person report to police and got out of his vehicle to investigate. The older man had been taking criminal justice courses to advance his goal of becoming a law enforcement officer and almost always carried a registered handgun in a holster on his hip.

We may never learn the whole story of what happened next because only Zimmerman survived that night. Did Zimmerman vengefully pursue Martin? Was it racially motivated, as many seem to think? Or did it happen the way the defendant said — the teenager threw the first punch in a fight that caused the watch captain to fear for his life? A single fatal gunshot left us with only one version of the story.

I know this may be an unpopular position to take, but for the sake of discussion let’s say Zimmerman was acting in good faith that night. Just hear me out here. There had been eight robberies at the complex in the prior 15 months. In fact, just three weeks before the fatal shooting, neighbor Frank Taaffe says Zimmerman saved his home from being burglarized.

“My house was being robbed, and George on his nightly rounds watched this burglary in progress, called Sanford P.D., waited for them and helped ensure that nothing bad happened to my house,” Taaffe told CNN.

So, maybe on the night of the shooting Zimmerman was honestly acting as the protector of the complex, a role he had become accustomed to. No one I have run across has dared to publicly mention this possibility. Seems we have become much more suited to immediately condemn, finding a dark, hidden meaning behind these tragic cases — “He was hunting for a black kid!” or, “He’s a wanna-be cop strutting around with a gun ready to shoot!” To suggest the tragedy might have stemmed from something much more benign invites complaints from those who see racism or abuse of power in every circumstance.

Could what happened the night of Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford have been borne of a sad calamity of circumstance? No one is saying Zimmerman set out to murder when he went to the grocery store that night. No one is saying the teenager was out looking for a fight. You can’t call the shooting an accident, of course, but might it have been a simple case of two macho males locking eyes — each believing they had to fight for their own honor and safety? A fight that went tragically wrong?

According to witness John Good, who was on his nearby balcony, saw the fight and ran to help even before the gunshot, Zimmerman looked up at him and breathlessly said he thought his life had been in danger. Another neighbor, Jonathan Manalo, was also at the scene almost immediately and took the bloodied photos of Zimmerman we’ve all seen. He testified that Zimmerman told him, “This guy was beating me up, and so I had to shoot him.” In legal terms such an “excited utterance” carries a lot of weight. What someone says in the heat of the moment is considered important for the jury to hear.

Zimmerman critics scoffed at that testimony claiming that since the watch captain was a student of criminal justice — and had earned A’s in class, according to one of his former professors — he instantaneously realized he had to claim self-defense to ward off murder charges. It was all a made-up story, they say, designed by Zimmerman to protect himself.

Who can honestly say what was in the mind of this man — or in the mind of the teenager — after they suddenly confronted each other and were forced to make split-second decisions? But after I heard a medical examiner testify that Martin had bruises on his knuckles consistent with having hit someone, I looked again at the photographs of Zimmerman’s bloody face and head. I wondered how badly beaten must someone be before they are allowed to defend themselves by any means available?

The raw emotions that have percolated around this trial serve to underscore that once the flames of a super-emotional story like this are fanned by 24/7 media coverage and so-called “community activists,” it is easy to lose sight of reality. Taking sides in blind haste is a sure-fire way to help truth get lost. Maybe the truth is that there is blame to be laid at the feet of both these men for the fight that broke out that night. One thing is clear — it was a terrible catastrophe for all involved.

Diane Dimond is the author of Cirque Du Salahi: Be Careful Who You Trust. Contact her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Talk to Us!

Please take Noozhawk's audience survey to help us understand what you expect — and want — from us. It'll take you just a few minutes. Thank you!

Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.