Zimmerman’s life was not without difficulties. In 2001 — when he was 17 or 18 — he was the victim of a minor criminal assault, said Manassas police Sgt. Eddie Rivera. The city’s computer records do not provide details of the crime.
In school, Zimmerman hinted at ambitions in the business world. He joined a Future Business Leaders of America club. And in his senior yearbook, he wrote: “I’m going to Florida to work with my godfather who just bought a $1 million business.”
The Sanford, Florida police chief at the center of neighborhood watch shooting is temporarily stepping down while the case is investigated. Trayvon Martin was shot and killed last month.
After declaring victories in getting federal and state officials to investigate the case of an unarmed black teenager shot to death by a neighborhood watch captain, civil rights leaders continued to pressure authorities to make an arrest.
In Florida, Zimmerman shifted his plans, enrolling in Seminole State College with hopes of becoming a law enforcement officer. He became the self-appointed protector of the streets around his home, although his neighborhood watch organization was not officially registered. He called the police department at least 46 times since 2004 to report everything from open garages to suspicious people. In 2005, according to police records obtained by the Orlando Sentinel and other news organizations, Zimmerman was twice accused of either criminal misconduct or violence. He had a concealed-weapon permit and had a black Kel-Tec semiautomatic handgun and a holster the night Martin died.
Zimmerman’s father has sought to emphasize his family’s diversity in hopes of saving his son from condemnation as a racist. While images of protests from across the country skitter past on television screens, the elder Zimmerman has tried to do what others have been doing, in various ways, for days: define his son. George is “a Spanish-speaking minority,” the father wrote in a letter delivered to the Orlando Sentinel. “He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever.” George, the father insisted, was more like the boy he killed than people thought. George was a minority — the other — too.
But the argument that the father is making feels hollow and self-serving to Michaela Angela Davis, an African American writer and activist who lives in New York. In her eyes, George Zimmerman’s Hispanic roots don’t give him cover.
“You being a minority doesn’t make you immune to racist beliefs,” she said in an interview Thursday. Davis sees a pervasive cultural imprint, reinforced by media and entertainment imagery: the black man as a symbol of “violence, fear and deviant behavior.” A young man could be susceptible to the influence of that image whether his “mother is from Peru or Norway.”
Hispanics and black Americans have a shared history of discrimination in the United States. But they also have a shared history of tension — in neighborhoods, schools, even prisons. In Latin America, including Peru, Afro Latinos have frequently complained of a lack of political representation, economic disenfranchisement and the virtual absence of their image in popular culture, such as soap operas, an issue they attribute to racial exclusion.
Zimmerman’s legal fate could rest on examinations of possible motives that will be pieced together from clues, including snatches of audiotape, and from inquiries into whether he muttered a racial slur before the shooting.