What George Zimmerman's Latest Actions Tell Us About America

Recently, a journalist from the Washington Post released a story reporting that George Zimmerman was in the middle of a major domestic issue. His wife, Shellie Zimmerman, 26, filed for divorce from the South Florida resident citing issues with Zimmerman being “selfish” and a spouse who makes “some reckless decisions.” Mrs. Zimmerman’s choice to part ways with her husband seems highly related to the recent behavior (or misbehavior) being reported by police and journalists. According to reports, Zimmerman was stopped for speeding twice since his acquittal, once recently in his home state of Florida and on another occasion in Texas back in July. Most recently, Lake Mary, Fla. police arrested the controversial neighborhood watchman on September 9 on charges of domestic violence against his wife. 

I recount the issues surrounding Mr. Zimmerman not to malign or disparage him as a person.  We all have our skeletons and imperfections, and it is not my place to judge. However, what we can and must do is take a moment and really examine Zimmerman’s story as a narrative that, once again, highlights an issue that continues to plague American society: gun violence. While much of the debate around Zimmerman has centered around gun violence and race, the larger Zimmerman story pushes beyond the racial debate and provides two main takeaways for us to consider within our own lives. 

he first is the overall inconsistency of gun violence in this country. Americans have a very complicated relationship with guns. According to Gallup, almost half of Americans, 43%, report that they have a gun in their home. However, over half, at 58%, believe that the sale of firearms should be made stricter. Even when looking at the small minority, 29%, of Americans who did not want the Senate to pass a gun regulation bill, the most frequently cited objection pertained to the Second Amendment and the legal right to bear arms. Thus, the gun debate highlighted the fact that there is a numbness to violence among Americans — an understanding of guns not as weapons that lead to destruction but household ornaments that people should have because they can.  

The second takeaway is that the gun-violence debate has become about celebrity and little else. Whether we like it or not, George Zimmerman is a celebrity. According to an account of Zimmerman’s encounter with a police officer while being stopped in Texas, Zimmerman, when being questioned by the officer about his intended destination on that night, rhetorically responded to the officer by saying, “You don’t see my name?” Now that he has become entangled in another legal issue, Zimmerman’s name is being tossed all across cyberspace, making him relevant, yet again, to our daily discussion.

However, Zimmerman is not the only persona propelled into mainstream relevance by the trial. The parents of the slain teenager Trayvon Martin, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fuller, both have been featured on a number of media outlets from CNN to to CBS in order to provide commentary on their personal experiences. Furthermore, friend of the teenage victim and trial testifier Rachel Jeantel received an extraordinary amount of attention for her style of speech, but was also offered a scholarship by famed radio host Tom Joyner. Lastly, the image of Trayvon Martin himself has become both that of a martyr and a threat, depending on your interpretation of the case. Whether these people should or should not be public figures is a discussion that extends beyond this piece, but what we cannot deny is that they the Zimmerman trial created celebrities. 

So how does this relate to gun policy in the end? We are months removed from the gun trial, and the same laws that enabled an adult to acquire a firearm and murder a minor remain in place.  The push to make gun laws more strict was, despite wide public support, annihilated by a Senate vote. The controversial “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida and over 20 other states remains intact. While New York courts bravely reversed the infamous “Stop and Frisk” policy, the rest of the country uses the Constitution as vindication to harass Americans citizens, particularly citizens of color, without anything more than subjective suspicion.

According to the CNN report on Zimmerman’s most recent arrest, Shellie Zimmerman ran from their house and called the police, where she cried, "He's in his car and he continually has his hand on his gun, and he's saying, 'Step closer.' He's just threatening all of us with his firearm…I don't know what he's capable of. I'm really, really scared."

Her words show our collective failure. They’re not the failure of white people to acknowledge and reject racism within the laws. They’re not the failure of the lawmakers to take away George Zimmerman’s gun. They’re not a failure of a woman to choose to live in a house with a man who would allegedly threaten her with a firearm.

Shellie Zimmerman’s words are our proof that we have all failed in understanding the seriousness of gun violence, that owning a gun has major implications, and that talking about a man who is obsessively violent is nowhere near the same as stopping him. So, as we move forward, I hope that we can finally make the decision to put the proper gun reforms in place.

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Jonathan Collins

Jonathan Collins is a 2nd year doctoral student in political science at the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA), who probably devotes way too much of his time to basketball. Nonetheless, in 2013, he published an article in the Harvard Journal of African American Policy. He holds a Master's degree in African American Studies from UCLA and a Bachelor's degree in English from Morehouse College. He was born and raised in Jackson, TN.

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