If there’s one takeaway from the racist tirade Robert Zimmerman Jr. launched on Twitter over the past few days, it’s this: he and his younger brother are not sharing the same public-relations playbook.
The elder Zimmerman kicked things off by tweeting an “uncanny” image of Trayvon Martin—the 17-year-old unarmed black teenager George Zimmerman shot and killed last year in Sanford, Fla.—next to a picture of another 17-year-old black teenager, De’Marquise Elkins, who stands accused of a horrific crime: shooting a 13-month-old baby in the face last week in Georgia.
Robert Zimmerman Jr.’s caption: “A picture speaks a thousand words. Any questions?”
Then came this tweet, for clarification: “Teen to West (the baby’s mother): ‘Do you want me to shoot your baby?’ #TrayvonMartin to #GeorgeZimmerman: You’re gonna die tonight Motherf**ker.”
The backlash that ensued was swift, and fierce. User @Tisha Starr tweeted: “@rzimmermanjr I just saw 20 pics of teens of all colors flipping the bird, I wondered which one of them will kill tonight!”
“C’mon,” Zimmerman tweeted back. “That’s not the point.”
So what is? In more tweets, Zimmerman walked from one position to the next, from “the way people choose 2publicly portray themselves (with middle fingers) speaks volumes about their character” to “Lib media shld ask if what these2 black teens did 2 a woman&baby is the reason ppl think blacks mightB risky” to the same media’s so-called hypocrisy in highlighting the race issue in the Martin case and supposedly ignoring it with Elkins.
After several requests, Zimmerman replied to an inquiry from The Daily Beast on Tuesday with a direct message: “It’s my birthday, will do the best I can 2 reach U... Thanx4 writing.” His followers had plenty to add. @GreatThee: “17 year old De Marquise Elkins shot a 2 year old baby in his carriage last week. Where is the liberal/black outrage?” And this, which Zimmerman retweeted, from @Talkmaster: “Trayvon Martin story exploded in media. White baby shot in face by black teenager—not so much. We all understand why.”
But George Zimmerman’s attorney said Junior is missing the point entirely. His comments can only serve to divide people on an important subject that is well worth discussing, Orlando attorney Mark O’Mara told The Daily Beast on Tuesday.
“I don’t know what was in his heart, but his words and his tweets tend to just rip people apart,” O’Mara said. “To tie someone like Trayvon Martin to a person who seems to have committed a heinous murder, just because they share a common trait of being black and having fingers, is wholly inappropriate. It allows people to start calling each other racists again.”
There is, O’Mara contended, a necessary conversation to have about race in America, a conversation that includes black victims of crimes being treated as guilty, black suspects being assumed guilty before they’re tried, and innocent young black men walking down the street judged as “risky” simply by the color of their skin. All of these things happen, O’Mara said, and he’s seen them happen again and again in 30 years of “representing young black males in the system. I know how they’re treated.”
O’Mara said he agrees that the media has had, on occasion, a “hyper-sensitivity to race in reporting criminal events.” But that’s where the accord between the attorney and the brother ends.
O’Mara added that he’s eager to talk about race in America, even as he insisted George Zimmerman’s trial is not the place for it. “The guy’s a complete non-racist,” O’Mara said.
Still, he acknowledged that race plays a tricky role in the case. “Was the community going through a recent history where there were a lot of burglaries? Yes. Were a number of those burglaries committed by young black males? Yes. Did that give George cause to look at [Martin], because he was somebody he didn’t recognize? Yes. Was it because he was black? That’s an oversimplification.”
O’Mara also acknowledged that Sanford police angered the community when officers tested Martin’s blood for drugs the night he was killed and not Zimmerman’s—“from the Martin family’s perspective, it was, ‘Here’s a cup of coffee, buddy, you just killed a black kid, don’t worry about it.’”
But there are more important questions than that, O’Mara said, and they’re not asked or answered by his client’s case, which he insisted is about what happened after Zimmerman first approached Martin, not before it.
“People who want to have a conversation about the way black males are treated in the criminal justice system took a round peg and fit it into a square hole here,” he said. “This isn’t the case for it.”
Like it or not, though, race is sure to keep factoring into the discussion. Especially if Robert Zimmerman Jr. has anything to say about it, and even if it gives his brother’s lawyer an ulcer.
“He has his own opinions about things. He does not represent the defense, and he does not represent George,” O’Mara said. “It’s unfortunate.”