Who is George Zimmerman? Florida Shooter Has Checkered Past Of ‘Vigilantism’ And Domestic Violence

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By Cavan Sieczkowski | March 24, 2012 4:45 AM EST

The shooting and death of Trayvon Martin has not only shaken the moral and constitutional foundations of Florida's self-defense "Stand Your Ground" law, but it has also affected the entire nation. George Zimmerman, of Caucasian and Hispanic descent, shot and killed the 17-year-old African American on Feb. 26 while he was walking home to his father's house after going to a nearby store to buy candy. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, has not yet been charged in the shooting.  He claims that he shot Martin, who was unarmed, with the Kel-Tec 9mm handgun, in self-defense.

Controversy surrounding the case has erupted, as supporters of Trayvon Martin and his family cry foul. The Sanford, Fla., Police Department has been criticized for its handling of the killing. Police did not conduct an alcohol or drug test on Zimmerman, and Zimmerman was allowed to keep his registered handgun even after the death. Also, a witness said that one of the officers "corrected" her when she said she heard Martin screaming for help, reported Yahoo! News.

Supporters have held Million Hoodie March protests around the nation demanding justice for Trayvon Martin. President Obama delivered a poignant message about the issue, saying, "if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."

"I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened."

Zimmerman was patrolling the streets of a gated community when he saw Martin and called the police to report a "black male" acting "suspicious" and wearing a black hoodie. Zimmerman, 28, acted against the dispatchers request to not follow Martin. A violent confrontation ensued and Trayvon Martin was left dead, reported Yahoo! News.

Who exactly is George Zimmerman? Recent facts about the shooter have emerged revealing a checkered past, including prior instances of "vigilantism" and domestic abuse.

George Zimmerman Wanted to Be a Cop

George Zimmerman was not a law-enforcement officer but he wanted to be one. New reports on Zimmerman, who moved to Florida from Manassas, Va., with his parents 10 years ago, reveal that the man had a keen interest in becoming a cop. He reportedly wanted to entire law enforcement, according to the Washington Post, and had applied to the Seminole County Sheriff's Office program for citizen law enforcement in 2008.

An Obsession with Vigilantism

Vigilantism seemed to be something George Zimmerman was particularly preoccupied with. In 2003, Zimmerman chased down a man who he saw steal a television set from a supermarket in Florida, according to the Daily Beast. He followed the perpetrator until police officials could catch up with him. One year later, Zimmerman followed another man, claiming that the man had spit on him. The Daily Mail reported on Sunday that, over the past year, Zimmerman had called 911 nearly 50 times with reports of open garages and suspicious-looking individuals. 

Questions Over Official Watchman Status

The night of Trayvon Martin's death George Zimmerman was out patrolling the streets as a volunteer neighborhood watchman of the Retreat at Twin Lakes community. "This guy looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something," Zimmerman told the dispatcher from his SUV. Though the dispatcher told Zimmerman not to follow Martin and to watch for the police to arrive, he disobeyed.

Some said he took his job too seriously. "I think he took his job too seriously," Teontae Ami told the Sun-Sentinel, referring to Zimmerman's watch patrols. Ami said his friend was once confronted by Zimmerman and accused of stealing a bike. "I don't want to call it a black thing, but it sure seemed like it," said Ami, who said the bike was never stolen.

However, George Zimmerman's actual position as watchman is under question. There are indications that he might not have been an official watchman at all, reported the Washington Post.  In a statement, the National Sheriffs' Association said its Neighborhood Watch Program is to act as the "eyes and ears" within the community, reported the Washington Post. "The alleged action of a 'self-appointed neighborhood watchman' last month in Sanford, Fla., significantly contradicts the principles" of the program. "NSA has no information indicating the community where the incident occurred has ever even registered with the NSA Neighborhood Watch program," said the organization.

Checkered Past

Though he wanted to be a police officer, George Zimmerman has had multiple run-ins with the law. In July 2005, he was arrested after a fight with law enforcement outside a bar near the University of Central Florida, reported the Daily Beast. This was Zimmerman's first offense and he got off with a pretrial diversion program. In August 2005, a petition for injunction was filed against him by a female, who cited domestic violence. Zimmerman responded with his own petition, according to the Daily Beast, and both injunctions were issued. In 2008, Zimmerman had issues with his credit card payments and reached a settlement with Capital One for $2,135.82, reported the Daily Beast. Capital One then reported Zimmerman was not making the required payments. 

Father Claims He Is Not a Racist

One of the major issues in the Trayvon Martin shooting is race. Those who want justice for Martin believe that he was targeted simply because he was black. George Zimmerman's father insists that his son is not a racist.

In a letter to the Sun-Sentinel, Robert Zimmerman, 64, said that the depiction of his son in the media is both cruel and misleading. Robert said that George is of Hispanic and Caucasian descent. "He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever ...," the letter says. "The media portrayal of George as a racist could not be further from the truth." He describes George as "a Spanish-speaking minority." George's mother is Peruvian and he also reportedly has black relatives.  

"At no time did George follow or confront Mr. Martin. When the true details of the event became public, and I hope that will be soon," the letter said, "everyone should be outraged by the treatment of George Zimmerman in the media."

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