Florida is ground zero for the weird and unusual, but there are many people, places and events that Florida can point to with pride: Gov. Reubin Askew, our world-class beaches, beautiful wetlands, Disney World, Gasparilla and our universities’ title-winning athletic teams.
But George Zimmerman is not something we’re proud of.
For those people who have not listened to any form of media for the last few years, George Zimmerman is best known as the neighborhood watchman-turned-vigilante who shot and killed an unarmed 16-year old by the name of Trayvon Martin.
Zimmerman played police, judge and jury, assuming Trayvon was “up to no good” as he walked home in a dark hoodie carrying nothing more than a can of tea and a bag of Skittles. A jury found Zimmerman not guilty of any crime.
The media continues to follow him and report on his antics, which continue to fall to new lows. He can’t kick a cat (which I’m certain he does) without making national news.
We are fascinated by killers. In fact, the more heinous the crime, the more press the killer receives. We even give them special monikers that include their middle names: Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray and John Wayne Gacy never used their middle names, but that is how they will be known in the history books.
This strange glorification has to stop. My wife’s last name is Zimmerman, and she constantly has to qualify herself on the phone when conducting some kind of business. “NO,”I hear her say, “I’m no relation to THAT Zimmerman.”
She’s considering changing her last name. She even created a Facebook page for other beleaguered Zimmermans, called ZAG (Zimmermans against George).
It’s time we stop using their names and start substituting their deeds when they are mentioned. Instead of saying “George Zimmerman,” let’s just say, “that guy who killed Trayvon.” Casey Anthony can be referred to as “that woman who killed her baby and blamed the babysitter she never had.”
The only positive thing to come out of the Trayvon Martin killing was a renewed interest in Florida’s “stand your ground” law. Its application has been criticized so strongly that Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, has filed a bill to squelch public disclosure of SYG case. His concern is that media exposure of ongoing cases makes expunging the court records of an acquitted individual ineffective.
Gaetz has gotten quite a bit of blowback for his efforts, but it shows yet another reason SYG is a controversial and flawed defense.
The SYG debate has provoked scrutiny of other Florida self-defense laws. Current law prevents someone who feels he is in mortal danger from brandishing a firearm or fire a warning shot. If you wave around your weapon or fire a shot in the air, you can get a minimum of 20 years in jail.
But, shoot your attacker and you can use SYG as a legal defense. The possibility of abuse is clear, as in the case of a former police officer who shot and killed a man who was texting his day-care provider during the coming attractions at a movie theater. The killer claimed fear of imminent danger when the man who was texting threw popcorn at him.
Hopefully, that man will only be known as “the guy who shot a man for texting.”
And hopefully, we will not have to deal the “The guy who shot Trayvon” any more.
Gary Stein, MPH, a native Detroiter, worked for the Centers for Disease Control, landed in the Tampa Bay area to work for the State Tobacco program and is now a health advocate and activist and blogger for the Huffington Post. Column courtesy of Context Florida.