George Zimmerman’s brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., penned this open letter to GlobalGrind’s editor-in-chief, Michael Skolnik
Michael, Thank you for reaching out and providing your email address. I am delighted to post this message publicly inthe interest of transparency and I must start by making clear that I am publishing this letter solely as a concerned Americanand not in my capacity as a representative of my family – The Zimmermans. I want to begin by sharing how proud I am to bean American and how grateful I am of the many rights and freedoms that we are afforded as Americans. Among these is ourfreedom of speech. It is a right central to the idea that a society in which its people can converse and express themselvesopenly is the very cornerstone of a truly free and enduring republic. If we are empowered by our freedom of speech by themany who sacrificed in order to secure it for us – we should be wise with our use of that power. I have every intention of respecting and defending anyfellow American’s right to speak openly. I have learned throughout this ordeal that the words we choose can and should wield influence to the people who hear them. It is why I strive to be responsible with my wordsand understand that we are all accountable for our words – especially when they harm others or incite harm to others. Weare the example for the generations to come, as those who came before us and founded our country were to us. In theirquest to form a more perfect union, our founders gave us a plan and left the work of fulfilling that vision to their children, and their children’s children. Today, we wonder why there is a bullyingepidemic affecting the lives of schoolchildren. We havecoined the term cyber-bully and allot resources to combat the inherent degradation to our country’s future that occurs whena child is singled-out and harassed because they are different. There is debate and disagreement as to the cause of thisepidemic and what the best path forward for our children may be. We teach the younger ones that our diversity is ourgreatest source of strength, and that it is in fact a great testament to our national unity. I would suggest that sometimes, children learn to lash-out with cruel words laced with reckless indifference because they learn it from us – adults.
In the beginning of this tragedy, I noticed that the narrative being promoted by a select few relied on three words togive traction to their story: “white”, “black” and “gated community”. Words have power. It was clear that the race-card deck-shufflers were going to rely on the unfortunate reality that there is still racial polarization in our country and that exploiting itby using a few choice words would prove to be their golden ticket to vast rewards that lie far outside the scope and spirit of justice. As others chimed in and could not resist sharing in the work of expanding the terms of “white” to “white vigilante” or to “white armed racist” they quickly set their sights on the word “black”, and we saw it metamorphose into terms like “un-armed black”, “hunted-down black child”, etc. There was now a movement that had gained enough traction to interject thenotion that you and others did that somehow an operator-solicited description of a person’s attire who happened to be wearing a hoodie was the ‘icing-on-the-cake’ irrefutable proof that the person who gave that description must be a racist - Period. Despite there being no evidentiary basis to suggest that a hoodie was what made my brother suspicious, the race-card had been tossed on the table and rebuttal would not be tolerated nor would the result of an official investigation be relevant or applicable here… someone had been declared a racist and that was all that many needed to hear – missionaccomplished, for the time being.
George had been keenly aware of the devastating effects of racial disparity as it relates to African American’s access to justice. That is why when there was irrefutable video documentation of an assault perpetrated on a black homeless man, by a police officer’s son – he wrote letters, petitioned his government, handed out flyers at black churches in Sanford, FL (thathe penned), and did all he could as a concerned American to combat the seemingly un-equal access to justice by a black man.Even when he reached out to the local chapter of the NAACP and was told that there were no resources that could be sparedto help Sherman Ware, he was not discouraged. My brother had a philosophy of giving back to his community and countryand another way the opportunity to serve the less-fortunate manifested in his life was by serving, with his wife, as a mentor totwo children who happened to be black, whose father was serving a life-sentence in prison. When resources from thegovernment had expired and the funding for the mentoring program was cut – again, George was not discouraged. Hecontinued to mentor the children because he insisted they needed love, the knowledge that they were valuable, and theassurance that they were not alone. It was by simultaneously combating the blatant disregard for a black homeless man’s fateand then reaching into the future by helping two black children achieve some semblance of sure-footing in life that George did his part to combat the unfortunate condition of racial polarization in America. If a few of us are a little more like George, wecan hope to one day defeat it. That is, if those who profit from its existence will allow us to do so.
As time passed, many more mistruths had found fertile ground in which to thrive. That unfortunate night of February 26, 2012 – despite any report to the contrary, George co-operated fully with law enforcement from the moment theyarrived on the scene. He was not told by the police as Al Sharpton would have us believe to “go home – take a shower”. He did not shoot anyone in the “back of the head in self-defense” as Jesse Jackson would report at a Baptist church. George did not “profile, pursue… confront… and then kill Trayvon Martin in cold blood”, there was no “shot, a clear shot… boybegging for his life… then… a second shot” - scenarios attorneys Crump and Jackson would report. There was no use of the racial slur “coons” as was suggested by CurrentTV and then by CNN. But there were producer edited phone call recordings,false talk of leaving a truck after being “told not to by police”, questions about the entire Zimmerman family being a family of racists, and allegations that the Sanford police and State Attorney’s office had “conspired to sweep the murder of TrayvonMartin under the rug” for racist reasons. There was an agenda – a profitable one – one that relied on anything but facts toadvance, and there were people all too happy to throw their hands into the bucket and throw stones at an innocent man’s reputation in order to be assured they would have a place at the table when the forthcoming feast would be served.
There was also an entire family displaced, a family who lost the ability to live in their home. We had a family memberwith a bounty on his head and intelligence to suggest my home could be on a list of targets as a hiding place for George. There was a family who received constant death threats, including a hand delivered threat left at our front door…a family who moved from hotel to hotel and from shelter to shelter in order to evade danger or death, and did so at their own expense – for months. A family in hiding out of fear their location would be published by another celebrity or “justice” seeker. Our family had to do without basic necessities time and time again, and forgo our dignity or any meaningful interaction with otherpeople. Our family was left with our savings eradicated, our way of life terminated, our trust in others forever compromised. Our family’s name – quite literally had been destroyed and our honorable reputation would not be restored anytime in theforeseeable future. All this came to pass and still is our reality, not because anyone had been convicted of any crime – or had been proven to be a dangerous racist, but because the legacy main-stream media had given a handful of people a platformfrom which they could enjoy repeating un-rebutted allegations that George and his family were racists. Now, I was tasked with trying to correct the perception of our family the public had been sold. I had to rebut unfounded assertions thatbombarded the air-waves on a daily basis and put us in fear of losing our lives – I knew better than to let people continue to use the word “racist” to describe us, or “murderer” to describe my little brother, if I continued to live in hiding and did nothingsilence could cost a family member his or her life.
It is impossible to turn back the hands of time to undo what has been done to our family. Going forward, when a person’s race is used as an indictment of their credibility – silence will not be an option I can entertain. When I was asked bythe Central Florida Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists if my perception of race had changed as a result of this case I replied that now “I really try to hear race, and if there’s inflections or overtones – because of the situation – in anything I hear in any story that I come across, or in any situation that confronts me, or something that I have to react with Ireally look out for race – for anybody’s race – as either an indictment on their credibility or as some way to advance or further some kind of agenda on both sides… I don’t think race has a place at the table”. A recent op-ed you wrote for thegrio.com was brought to my attention by another concerned American. It is entitled ‘Turn the Music Up for Jordan Russell Davis’. You use the term “white man” a mere five sentences into the piece. “White man” is a term – for the record we are mixed racewhite/Hispanic – that was used to get the ball rolling on the campaign to smear my brother’s character when the world knew nothing about him. All they knew, or thought they knew, was that he was white. I can’t speak for your motives nor will I speculate as to why you use the term “white man”. There may be fair questions to be asked in this case – but you do allude to the death of Trayvon Martin as an “it” that would happen again. Any conclusions you may have come to or are contemplating arriving at regarding the events of the night of February 26 should be based on the careful examination of facts that have nowbeen established in court, and those facts which are yet to be presented. We must be responsible when using words thatdenote race in any case, and just as concerned with the facts of the case as we are with the race of the participants.
Racism in all its forms is deplorable. We all know the story of the boy who cried “wolf”. If we use the term “racist” or suggest that someone is a racist when there is no proven-by-fact premise for doing so we risk the most egregiousmanifestations of actual racism and their subsequent denouncements will fall on deaf ears. “Racist” is a very strong word that should be reserved for the most severe and proven of situations because if the word in its proper context and properapplication loses its value, we may stop listening and we risk a scenario in which we all lose. George could be any one of us… an innocent man charged by petition. Charges brought forth by petition cannot be the standard for America, not now, notever. Appropriate criminal charges brought forth by probable cause can be the only appropriate standard for a country thatshould and must have a universal definition of the right to due process of law.
Going forward, when I hear one’s race used not as an objective statement of fact but as a prejudicial basis for theconclusions we draw about a person’s character or their guilt or innocence – I’m going to blow a whistle. It is un-acceptable for what happened to George and his family to happen to another decent American family. I will see to it that it doesn’t happen on my watch. We are the example of compassion for young people and the example we provide young Americans of today will determine the kind of world they live in tomorrow. A future free of the race-card, and all its profits and perils, is afuture America worth fighting for. We were not perfect at our founding, we are still not today: but striving for a more perfectunion – not of the colonies – but of the American people of all colors is our birthright – it is our legacy – it is our duty.
Respectfully, Robert Zimmerman, Jr - @rzimmermanjr
Editor’s Note: After reading this letter, Michael Skolnik responded with his own open letter to Robert Zimmerman. You can read it here.