Fri March 23, 2012
Suspect Silent As Slain Teen's Family Cries For Justice
People across the country have had something to say about the death of Trayvon Martin, but the man at the center of the case — George Zimmerman — remains silent.
The neighborhood watch volunteer told police he was acting in self-defense when he shot Trayvon last month. Zimmerman has yet to be charged with a crime — or to speak publicly about what happened, leaving others to speak for him.
There's been a lot of scrutiny of the call Zimmerman made to 911 moments before his collision with Trayvon. But that was hardly Zimmerman's first call to the police in Sanford, Fla.
Sanford police have released excerpts of other calls Zimmerman made to 911 over the years — almost 50 total since 2004, according to police records. Some of them are about pretty mundane things: Zimmerman calls to report a garage door left open, or kids playing in the street.
"They run out in front of cars. And it always seems to be around dusk," he says during one call.
But in others, Zimmerman voices concern about recent break-ins. And he suspects the robbers are back in the neighborhood.
"Black males, two black males in their late teens," he tells the 911 dispatcher. "One is wearing a black wife-beater, white tank top."
Zimmerman wanted to work in law enforcement. He had taken a 14-week class at the Seminole County Sheriff's Office, and he was enrolled at Seminole State College until the school kicked him out this week, citing safety concerns.
Zimmerman had worked at CarMax. It's not clear where or whether he was employed at the time of the shooting. But it is clear that Zimmerman took his neighborhood watch responsibilities seriously — a little too seriously for some.
"He just seemed very arrogant and cocky to me, just by walking," says Marisa Chontas, who has lived in the same gated subdivision as Zimmerman since 2008. "Just by him out in public, like he thought he was being better than other people. That's just the impression I got from him."
Zimmerman was licensed to carry a gun, despite a run-in with police in 2005. His neighborhood watch group is not registered with the National Sheriffs' Association, although Sanford police say they were aware of it. And some neighbors say it was valuable.
"George is no Rambo. He was a caring person," his neighbor Frank Taaffe said earlier this week on NBC. "It's really sad that he's already been convicted, in the public media."
The gated subdivison where Zimmerman lived — the Retreat at Twin Lakes — is middle class and racially diverse.
Another neighbor, Anthony White, said he never had any interactions with Zimmerman. Like Trayvon, Anthony White is black. And given what he's heard about Zimmerman since the case started, he has questions.
"It wouldn't surprise me if I was one of those people that he was calling 911 on," he says.
There are many people in Sanford and around the country who think Zimmerman targeted Trayvon because of his race.
But Zimmerman's father says that characterization is unfair. Robert Zimmerman is white and his wife, Gladys, is from Peru. In a letter to the Orlando Sentinel last week, Robert Zimmerman wrote that his son is "a Spanish-speaking minority" and that George would be "the last person" to discriminate based on race.
Neighbors who knew the Zimmerman family in Manassas, Va., say much the same.
"I never saw any racism," says Kay Hall, who lived near the Zimmermans in the 1980s and '90s, before they moved to Florida. She remembers George as polite and well-behaved — literally, an altar boy in the local Catholic church.
"When we first heard George's name on TV, I thought, no it can't be George. They were the most well-behaved children, I would say in the whole neighborhood, maybe including my own sometimes," she says.
Hall is waiting to hear Zimmerman's side of the story before forming her own opinion. Like everyone else, she may be waiting a long time.