“I demand justice for Trayvon Martin! Sanford PD should be ashamed of themselves.”
On March 19, 2012, those were the first words I ever vocalized in regard to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. I had been driving home that day from a long day on the road, and while listening to my satellite radio, I heard for the first time the story of this young, 17 year old, unarmed kid who was walking home from the store, minding his own business, carrying nothing but a can of iced tea and some Skittles that he’d bought for his younger brother during a trip to 7-Eleven at halftime of the NBA All-Star game on February 26th. I was shocked to hear that the white vigilante named George Zimmerman who had shot him had still not been arrested for his crime. It made my blood boil, and I was determined that I was going to let my thousand-member social media friends list know how upset I was in hopes that it would spur some of them to demand action as well.
In the days that followed, I went onto a message board that I frequent, and I was incensed to find that the conservative cohorts that I so enjoyed discussing life and politics with were jumping to the aid of George Zimmerman. “How can that be?” I thought – it’s so obvious that Zimmerman was at fault. It’s important to note that some of you reading this stopped a sentence back and wondered to yourself how I could be surprised that conservatives (or Republicans) would jump to support a white guy who had killed a black kid. Let me just say right here that if that is your worldview – if you believe conservatives and Republicans are racists who want to see black people dead – you should just move along now. It’s an old and tired meme, and it’s simply not true. THAT’s why I was so upset about what I saw as a clear sign that there were a few contributors on that board that appeared to be outright racists.
I argued with those people until I was literally blue in the face. Trayvon Martin had a voice on that website in those next seven days. It was my voice speaking for him, and I called some people some nasty names and accused them of having some really ugly thoughts. They stood their ground, though (my use of that term was not intended to be a pun), and after a week, someone (I honestly don’t remember who it was) convinced me that I should at least explore a couple of websites that might show me that I wasn’t getting all of the information that I needed in order to make an informed decision.
At this point, I don’t remember for sure how I ended up making the connections, but I am pretty sure that I first encountered a timeline at a website called wagist.com. There was some information there that didn’t quite match up with what I thought I knew based on the reports that were in the media every night. Seeking more, I found a site called The Conservative Treehouse. It was there that I encountered update after update after update on this case, most of them authored by someone named “Sundance.” These posts were extraordinarily well-researched and documented. It was so shocking to read some of those early updates. I believe that I arrived at the Treehouse around the time of update 9 or update 10 on this case, and I read all of the previous updates in order. Back in those days, Sundance was putting out a new update every day or two, and the information presented and the comments that followed were just a complete eye-opener for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I knew all about the Tawana Brawley incident and the Duke Lacrosse case, both examples of race-hustlers manufacturing racially-charged incidents in order to increase their power and enrich their bank accounts, but I just didn’t think that was what was going on here. Not in Florida. Not in 2012.
Growing up in the State of Florida in the 1970’s, I was raised to believe in the concepts of right and wrong, and to always see the good in other people. Sure, I grew up in a “white” neighborhood, but I was always quick to make friends with the black kids I went to school with. I can remember specific kids, like Antwan, who I’ve known since kindergarten, and who I still occasionally see around town here, and Rod, who I played football with in junior high school. He used to come home with me before football games so that we could eat dinner and swim in our pool. I remember having conversations with Rod where he would talk to me about how different the act of swimming was for black people, because their bodies were denser, making it harder for them to float. I have no idea at all if that is true. The “adult me” kind of doubts it, although it is possible to find some people who make that claim through a quick Google search. I don’t mention that to get into a debate about that issue – just as an example of the innocence with which I approached the “racial divide.” There was no divide to me – Rod and Antwan were just kids that I liked and admired and enjoyed talking to. I was probably most intrigued when talking about our differences, because other than the obvious fact that they were darker skinned than I was and sometimes maybe talked a little differently, I didn’t really see much that was different.
That was how I approached life until high school. Unlike most of my friends, I was zoned for the “other” high school, the one with the less affluent population. That was okay, though, because I could make friends anywhere, and that’s exactly what I did. My junior year of high school, things began to change a bit and my eyes started to open up to racial differences – not because I wanted to see anything differently about people. These changes were thrust upon me.
After my tenth grade year, my football coach was forced to resign. In my entire county, up to that point, there had never been a black head football coach, and so they promoted the defensive coordinator to head coach – to great fanfare about what a defining moment it was for our county. I didn’t care – he was the same coach who I had played for the year before. However, little things began to happen. I remember one coach taking one of the black players aside during our pre-season practices and telling him “you’re black – you have to do better,” and even though that kid didn’t do anything very well, he started every game. The incident that really opened my eyes, though, happened right before one of our big games. One of the black players, who always had a chip on his shoulder about something, just didn’t like the way that I would often get the better of him when I would block him in practice. So, one day, he told me that he was going to “kick my ass” after practice. I laughed it off because it was the kind of thing he’d say often and honestly, to me, it was all on the field stuff that I didn’t think much of when I left practice every day.
Well, when I left practice that day, and walked to my car, he was waiting for me by the lockers near the parking lot. He had a menacing look, and it was obvious that he was going to make good on his promise. As I walked to my car, hoping he’d just forget about it, I told him “I’m not going to fight you.” This didn’t have the desired effect, and he tackled me into the lockers and began to pummel me. I literally threw up my hands and said “Henry, I’m not going to fight you.” I never threw a punch. After maybe 20-30 seconds, some of the other players pulled us apart, and someone went and got the coach. The other players all told the coach exactly what I just told you – that I had not thrown a punch and had refused to fight Henry. The coach told us he’d deal with us later. The next day, he called me and my parents in for a meeting. During the meeting, he told us that because he couldn’t be sure of the details of what happened, both Henry and I were to be punished equally – neither of us would start the game that week. Up until this point, both of us had been starters on that team – me as an offensive lineman, and Henry as a defensive tackle.
I was not happy about this, but coach was the coach, and I had been raised to think that what the coach said was law. So, the next day, I took my punishment….until I saw what I saw. Apparently, to this coach, for this player, the word “start” meant that he wouldn’t play the very FIRST play of the game, which is, of course, the kickoff. However, on the very next play, I was surprised to see Henry run out onto the field to play his normal position. He played the entire game, and I never got in once. For the remainder of that year, I was no longer a starter, and Henry played all the time. It was clear to me that on that team, with that coach, there was no longer any such thing as fairness. So, at the end of that season (my junior year), I told the coach that I wouldn’t return to play for senior year. This was a big deal. I was the only 10th grader who had played on the varsity team my sophomore season. I was a big kid – with the right coaches, I could have gone a long way and possibly earned a college scholarship, but instead, I joined the swim team and had fun looking at pretty girls in bathing suits that fall.
That was my first real exposure to any kind of unfairness in life (well, there was that time when the coach’s son won the MVP award despite me leading the team in homeruns, RBIs, and pretty much everything else), but there would be another, much bigger example coming down the line for me of how “the system” could fail someone very badly.
I had an interest in attending West Point, but my junior year in high school, during wrestling season, which was the point in time where all of the paperwork and physical exams and everything had to be completed, I separated my shoulder on the wrestling mat at practice one day. Unable to physically prepare for the tests, I lost interest, and then ultimately ended up following some of my friends to the state university a few hours from home. However, after my freshman year, my interest in West Point was renewed, and I began the process again. I was ultimately accepted, and so after two years of college, I withdrew from the university so that I could begin plebe summer at the US Military Academy.
I don’t know why – looking back on it, I know it was the decision of a young and stupid kid – but for some reason, after about a month, I was mentally through with West Point. I was tired of doing the things I was supposed to do, but then being punished for things that my two roommates would do wrong. Today, with hindsight, I can look at it and understand that the Army was trying to teach me to take responsibility for other people’s actions, but at the time, it just felt unfair to me, and so that, combined with missing all of the friends I’d made in two years at the university, resulted in me withdrawing from West Point and making plans to go back to the other school and complete my degree.
The trouble was that it was nearing the end of summer, and I simply didn’t know anyone who needed a roommate at that point. It was two weeks until school started. All of the roommates were already snatched up. There was an apartment complex, however, that offered a roommate matching service, so that was where I decided to live. One of the criteria that they matched you on was smoker vs. non-smoker. I was a non-smoker, and was glad to know that I would not have to share an apartment with guys who smoked. I thought it was a disgusting habit and wanted no part of it. Imagine my surprise when the guy who was assigned to be my roommate (Billy) was a smoker. I have to say, though, that Billy respected the fact that I was a non-smoker, and he always went outside to smoke.
The two guys who shared the other room, Jon and Kurt, were best friends, and both were non-smokers. Both were also cocky and arrogant, especially Jon. About three weeks after we’d all moved in together, Jon and Kurt decided to have a party for Billy, who was moving back to Massachusetts suddenly. I was out that evening with some friends, but when I returned home, the party was in full swing. I went in the kitchen and cleaned up a bit, since there were beer bottles and cans all over the place, and I rinsed a 1.75 liter whiskey bottle that was sitting on the counter, since those were the kind of bottles that people liked to keep on their shelves to show off their mastery of the art of drinking liquor.
A few minutes later, I sat down in the other room where Jon was sitting with his girlfriend playing cards with a group of his friends. I was getting a kick out of watching all of these drunk people, since I was completely sober. At one point, Billy came walking in, and he had an unlit cigarette stuck between his ear and forehead, the way you’d put a pencil up there to hold onto it so you don’t lose it or drop it. Jon saw that cigarette and, surprisingly, since he’d claimed to be a non-smoker, told Billy that he wanted it. Billy handed it to him and then Jon asked for a lighter. I reminded Jon that our apartment was a non-smoking apartment. This, of course, was the worst thing I could say to an egotistical narcissist like Jon, whose mission in life at that point became lighting that cigarette in that apartment where I could see him do it.
Of course, I wasn’t going to have that. I was no longer the bright-eyed kid who had refused to fight Henry that day a few years earlier, so I reiterated that he was not to smoke in the apartment. Let’s just skip a bunch of the back and forth of a couple of testosterone driven guys and say that eventually, Jon not only lit the cigarette, ignoring an ultimatum that had been set, but when he did, he blew the smoke in my face. I’d had enough, and so I tackled Jon and we kind of slammed against the sink area. That was pretty much the extent of the physical confrontation. I remember he was trying to hit me, but I held on and probably got a couple of blows in to his midsection, before people pulled us away from each other.
When they did, I was shocked to see blood all over the place. I remembered seeing some knives in the sink as we were fighting, and I was afraid that perhaps Jon had cut me, so I began to check myself to see where. I didn’t feel anything, but there sure was a lot of blood, all over the floor and on my shirt and Jon’s shirt as well. There was also a broken 1.75 liter whiskey bottle on the floor, and clearly Jon, who was barefoot, had stepped on a piece of the glass and suffered a cut of some kind. That didn’t explain the blood on our torsos, though. Immediately, all of Jon’s friends who were there told me that I should leave and go to a neighbor’s apartment. She took me to her place and helped me clean up, and then she went back to help clean up the kitchen at my apartment. When she returned, she told me that from what she could see, Jon had hit his head on the upper cabinet above the sink, and it had opened a cut behind his right ear. That was where the blood on our torsos came from. The other blood was from the whiskey bottle which we had knocked on the floor during the fight.
Obviously, I could no longer live there, so the next day, I went by the apartment to pick up my stuff. Jon was there, and he told me that he’d called the cops and was going to tell them what happened. That was fine with me. I felt that it was just a fight between two roommates, and didn’t think too much of it. However, the next day, I heard from an investigator that Jon had reported that I hit him with the whiskey bottle, causing the cut behind his ear and breaking the bottle, which then resulted in his foot injury. Jon’s girlfriend backed up his story.
I was scared. This was not at all what happened. I immediately called my dad and explained to him what had transpired, and he came up that day to see me and help me get through this situation. We retained an attorney. I was charged with Aggravated Battery with a Deadly Weapon, and even I had to admit that if someone who didn’t know the facts looked at the circumstances and evidence, they could think that I had indeed tried to kill Jon with a whiskey bottle. It seemed so obvious to me that nobody on a jury would believe Jon’s story, because if you hit someone over the head with a 1.75 liter whiskey bottle, it’s going to do much more damage than the little cut that Jon had suffered. That bottle would have broken his head open and done serious damage if I’d used it as a club, as Jon swore that I did. Just to be clear, I DID NOT HIT JON WITH THAT BOTTLE. No matter who he convinced to say that I did, I knew the truth, and the truth was exactly as I describe it above.
None of that mattered, though, my attorney said – what mattered was what the state could prove, which was that I had hit Jon first, and that there was a whiskey bottle there which had somehow been broken and oh, happened to have my fingerprints on it (remember early on I said I’d cleaned up the kitchen and rinsed this bottle out before placing it on the counter). So, my attorney suggested a plea deal. The State’s Attorney offered me a chance to plead no contest to simple battery. In exchange, the felony charge would be dropped, and I’d enter into a one-year probation period and serve 120 hours of community service. My probation would end as soon as the community service was completed. I was also required to pay Jon’s medical bills of a little over $400.
This seemed much more “fair” to me than the possibility of serving a number of years in prison if a conviction should occur on the felony charge, and my lawyer assured me that the state would, at a minimum, convict me on the lesser included offense of simple battery since I had technically struck first. Since a judge would probably sentence me to more than what this deal was requiring, the lawyer thought I should take the deal. Since I was pleading no contest, I wasn’t admitting guilt, and indeed I didn’t FEEL guilty, so I took the deal.
I completed my community service in just over a month and paid the restitution, so my probation ended after only one visit with the probation officer. Ultimately, that incident has had no lasting effects on my life. I have worked as a high school teacher and in many other jobs since then, and it hasn’t kept me from being hired or in any other way caused me problems, though I have had to answer questions about it on more than one occasion.
Despite all of that, I still believed that “the system” was ultimately fair and that it treated everyone equally. Despite my being falsely accused of this crime, I think that I still tended to believe that most people who get arrested are guilty of the crime they are charged with. Certainly, when I first heard about this vigilante wannabe cop in Sanford, I pronounced him guilty. How could I forget my own experience that easily?
As I read those updates at the Treehouse, though, I began to see that Sundance and the commenters like Diwataman and others might just have a point about George Zimmerman. Maybe he really was acting in self-defense that night in February. As I studied the case and learned more and more about what really happened that night, it really dawned on me that I’d jumped to a conclusion about George Zimmerman’s guilt that was unfair, and unsupported by the facts of the case. I had been duped by so-called black “leaders” and national media outlets who had vested interests in seeing this case become a racial powderkeg. How could I be so unfair to George Zimmerman? How could I not give him the benefit of the doubt that I wished that State’s Attorney had given me years earlier?
Within 7 days after my initial proclamation on Facebook, I was back on my conservative forum. This time, I was apologizing to those I’d been arguing with days before. I explained that I’d jumped to a conclusion, but that I was now seeing the larger picture, and I asked for their forgiveness for the names I’d called them and the motives I’d attributed to them.
However, there was one person who I couldn’t apologize to. I’d become part of the lynch mob that had chased after George Zimmerman with pitchforks and torches, and apologizing to a bunch of faceless people on a conservative web forum wasn’t going to make up for that. So, I did little things, like contributing a small amount to George’s defense fund early on, but still, that wasn’t enough to make up for the things I’d unfairly thought and said about George, who deserved none of that kind of treatment from me or anyone else.
I couldn’t apologize to George because, as you know, George was arrested and thrust into the “system” that I always thought was so fair. I totally see it now, though – I see how a corrupt prosecutor appointed by a corrupt attorney general can take a case before a corrupt judge and eventually (probably) get a corrupted verdict, all to appease those same race hustlers who thrust the Tawana Brawley and Duke Lacrosse incidents upon us.
So, since I couldn’t apologize to George in person, I determined to do whatever I could with the limited abilities that I have to try to spread the word of his innocence, to try to learn as much as I can about the case, so that if anyone asks me a question about it or challenges me on some point of fact, I can rebut with the truth. I owe that to George Zimmerman.
George, if you read this, please know how sorry I am that I doubted you. Please know how guilty I felt that I called for your head, when you had done nothing to deserve that. Please forgive me.
George is a good man. He and I would probably disagree on a lot of the typical things that divide people. My understanding is that George is a Democrat who has long supported Democrat causes. I’m a conservative Republican. He is a short Hispanic, and I’m a tall white guy. But, I can see a lot of myself in George. I think we both placed more trust in the “system” than the system deserved. I think we both viewed the world as a place where doing the right thing would always turn out well. I think if I’d been driving in my neighborhood that night and seen Trayvon Martin walking in the rain, apparently on drugs, I might have called police to report him, especially after a series of burglaries in the neighborhood where the perpetrators always seemed to get away. I probably would have wanted to keep this one in sight, so I may very well have gotten out of my vehicle to follow him so that I could keep the dispatcher informed of his position. Had Trayvon confronted me the way he did George, and asked if I had a problem, I might have reacted exactly the same way George did. “No, I don’t have a problem.” Reach for my cell phone. Take my attention off of the young man for a split second as I do, not realizing that he was about to hit me. I might have ended up on my back, with this young man straddling me and attempting to beat me to death, as I screamed for dear life for someone – ANYONE – to come to my aid.
Faced with that, I might have shot Trayvon Martin.
I could BE George Zimmerman.
That’s why I support George Zimmerman.