February 26, 2012, stands as a dividing line in the annals of crime, race, law enforcement, politics, gun rights, media reporting, and America fracturing into two sides that, ever since, seem to be in a constant rage against one another.
It was on that night that George Zimmerman, 28, confronted and fatally shot unarmed, African-American 17-year-old Trayvon Martin inside a gated community in Sanford, Florida.
Zimmerman spoke Spanish at home and listed his race as Hispanic on his driver’s license, but CNN and The New York Times consistently described him as a “white Hispanic,” placing race at the center of the story going forward and inflaming arguments about how news coverage clouded the facts of the tragedy.
Martin’s family and defenders maintain that he was merely visiting the home of his father’s fiancée when a homicidal racist gunned him down. Zimmerman’s family and defenders stand by the idea that, as a volunteer neighborhood watchman, he was just looking out for everyone’s safety and that, after Martin physically attacked him, he fired in fear for his life.
A jury bought the latter explanation, at least enough to find Zimmerman not guilty of murder on July 24, 2013. Regardless, Zimmerman has had repeated run-ins with the law ever since, often over domestic-violence claims. He was arrested in 2013 for reportedly pointing a gun at his girlfriend.
The rest of society, however, has remained in nonstop debate over issues ignited and magnified by the case. The Black Lives Matter movement largely arose in the wake of Martin’s death, and Zimmerman has been lauded as a hero in some extreme circles.
Five years later, the outrage from all angles seems to only increase and expand. Trayvon Martin remains dead, and George Zimmerman remains a controversial, and curious, figure. Here are five facts about the latter that definitely veer toward the “curious” component.
1. A DRIVER SHOT AT GEORGE ZIMMERMAN IN 2015, AND GOT 20 YEARS FOR IT
George Zimmerman seems as though he might have road-rage issues in general, but he definitely had some very specifically with a fellow Floridian named Matthew Apperson.
In September 2014, Apperson reported to police that Zimmerman and another man pulled up next to him at a red light and threatened him with a gun. Zimmerman allegedly blocked Apperson’s truck from moving and asked, “Do you know who I am?” before speeding off prior to officers arriving.
A year later, the two men clashed on the road again. Zimmerman reportedly “whipped out” a gun and Apperson responded by firing into Zimmerman’s vehicle, shattering the windshield and causing minor injuries.
Apperson claimed self-defense at his trial, but was found guilty of attempted second-degree murder. The judge then cited Florida’s mandatory minimum sentence for shooting at someone and gave Apperson 20 years. [TIME]
2. A DINER PUNCHED ZIMMERMAN IN THE FACE FOR “BRAGGING” ABOUT KILLING TRAYVON
On July 31, 2016, George Zimmerman called 911 from Gators Riverside Grille and said, “This man just punched me in the face. He said he was going to kill me. You need to send three or four cops.”
According to witnesses, Zimmerman “announced himself” as Trayvon Martin’s killer upon entering the restaurant and complimented another patron’s Confederate flag tattoo.
A customer identified only as “Eddie” reportedly approached Zimmerman and said, “You’re bragging about that?” From there, a “shoving match” ensued and culminated, bizarrely, with Eddie reportedly telling Zimmerman, “You better get the f— out of here, you n—er lover, you ain’t welcome here!”
Eddie then punched Zimmerman in the face, breaking George’s glasses, before fleeing on a blue Harley-Davidson motorcycle. No charges were filed. [New York Daily News]
3. ZIMMERMAN AUCTIONED OFF THE GUN THAT KILLED TRAYVON MARTIN
Zimmerman lit the internet on fire in 2016 when he placed the Kel-Tec PF-9 pistol used to kill Martin up for auction online.
The gun’s manufacturer offers it at the suggested retail price of $356.36. False bids instantly flooded the auction, with “Racist McShootface” leading the action at one point. In short order, a troll had raised the going price to $65 million.
After a brief time offline to dismiss the phony participants, Zimmerman claimed he sold the gun to a verified customer for $250,000. He told the press he would donate the money to conservative political causes, in an effort to do, “Anything I can think of to ensure that Hillary Clinton doesn’t become leader of the greatest nation on earth.” [CNN]
4. ZIMMERMAN GOT EXPELLED ONE CREDIT SHY OF A COLLEGE DEGREE IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE; MARTIN GOT A DEGREE POSTHUMOUSLY
Despite attending a December 2011 graduation ceremony at Seminole State College, George Zimmerman, who majored in criminal justice at the school, didn’t get his degree. He still had one credit to go.
Following the Trayvon Martin shooting in 2012, Seminole State gave Zimmerman the boot and stated:
“Due to the highly charged and high-profile controversy involving this student, Seminole State has taken the unusual but necessary step this week to withdraw Mr. Zimmerman from enrollment. The decision is based solely on our responsibility to provide for the safety of our students on campus as well as for Mr. Zimmerman.”
To date, Zimmerman has not apparently completed a course of studies anywhere else.
In May 2017, the historically African-American Florida Memorial University awarded Trayvon Martin an honorary Bachelor of Science Degree in Aviation. While in high school, Martin spoke of wanting to learn to fly and to perhaps work as an airline mechanic.
Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, is a graduate of FMU. She and Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s dad, accepted the degree. Fulton told the audience: “To the graduates, I tell you, there is no limit to what you can do. Just stay focused and put your mind to it, and you can do it.” [Washington Times]
5. BILL COSBY QUESTIONED WHETHER ZIMMERMAN IS RACIST … SORT OF
Several weeks after the Trayvon Martin shooting, Bill Cosby — then a far less tempestuous public figure than he is now — stirred controversy when he told CNN that the issue of guns, not race, lay at the heart of the tragedy.
Cosby, whose son Ennis was killed in 1997 by a gunman, used his finger to indicate gun violence and said:
“This, and what is he doing with it, and who taught him and told him how to behave with this, it doesn’t make any difference if he’s racist or not racist … You’ve got to protect yourself in your own home, but I also believe that when you tell me that you’re going to protect the neighborhood that I live in, I don’t want you to have a gun. I want you to be able to see something, report it, and get out of the way … What is solved by saying, ‘He’s a racist. That’s why he shot the boy.’ What solves that?”
Following Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict in 2013, Cosby told a radio show:
“This racial stuff goes into a whole bunch of discussion which has stuff that you can’t prove. You can’t prove somebody is a racist unless they really come out and do the act and is found to be that.”
He summed up the verdict by saying, “The prosecution did not tell the story well and they lost.” [Hollywood Reporter]
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Main photos: George Zimmerman [Seminole County Sheriff’s Office]