Since last weekend, Joe Oliver has been making the rounds of television shows as a “close friend” of George Zimmerman. A man who knew the man who shot an unarmed Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. A man who could vouch for Zimmerman’s personal growth and character. A man who knew the gunman so well that he was certain that the voice screaming for help on one of the 911 calls was that of Zimmerman’s. But all that was blown out of the water last night.
During an interview on MSNBC’s “The Last Word,” host Lawrence O’Donnell, Charles Blow of the New York Times and I each took turns questioning the self-appointed defender of Zimmerman. After an intense grilling for about 30 minutes, Oliver revealed himself to be nothing more than an acquaintance and raised questions about why he inserted himself into this national maelstrom to begin with.
Throughout the two-part interview, Oliver tried to have it both ways. He’s known Zimmerman for six years, he said, “since he started dating his wife.” There’s even a family connection, and the two men have worked together at the same company. Oliver claims Zimmerman has grown from his past experiences into a “caring person.”
“The George Zimmerman I know,” Oliver told O’Donnell, “is not the George Zimmerman who I’ve known since 2005.” He would say later about the protests that the killing of Trayvon Martin has sparked, “If I didn’t know George Zimmerman, I’d be outraged myself.” And, yet, Oliver doesn’t know him.
Oliver said he didn’t know about Zimmerman’s violent past and brushes with the law. He didn’t know Zimmerman had gone through anger-management classes. When Blow challenged him on how well he knows Zimmerman, Oliver said, “I wouldn’t put myself out here on the line like this if I didn’t know in my heart that George Zimmerman was in a life-or-death struggle.” Blow countered, “How do you know in your heart?”
Oliver responded, “Have you ever had a gut feeling?”
Even though he said that he and Zimmerman “talked about what he wanted to do with his future,” Oliver told he couldn’t remember any discussions with his friend about his dreams of working in law enforcement. In fact, when I asked if Zimmerman ever discussed his work with the neighborhood watch program, Oliver said no because “I never asked.”
And then Oliver said this.
I want to point out and clarify my relationship with George because the characterization has been as a close friend. I’m being described as a close friend because I’m the only one speaking out for him. But my relationship with George is more of an older uncle. I’m old enough to be his father.
We’ve had these discussions before at family gatherings. But you have to understand at these family gatherings George was probably the only one who wasn’t drinking, for one. For another, the discussions you’re talking about that you think we should have had in order to validate whether or not I should be here talking on his behalf are conversations he had with his father. The discussions I’ve had with George have been in general, have been about our mutual acquaintances about what’s going on with each other. And it’s not something you’re going to take notes about.
In keeping with everything about the killing of Trayvon Martin nothing makes sense. Nothing. Oliver is no friend. He’s barely an acquaintance who appears to be trying to use his seemingly tenuous connection to Zimmerman for a purpose that defies logic.
Oliver isn’t Zimmerman’s “close friend”? He’s more of an “older uncle”? Oliver doesn’t know much about Zimmerman at all but has a “gut feeling” that he’s telling the truth? As O’Donnell pointedly said to Oliver at the end of the interview, “That is not good enough for America.”