Now there’s a $10,000 ‘bounty’ on his head.
Denounced as a ‘vigilante,’ accused of hunting down an unarmed black teenager and portrayed as a wannabe-cop who morphed his volunteer neighbourhood-watch job into a gun-toting power trip, George Zimmerman, 28, may be America’s dead man walking.
In cyberspace, there’s a poster with his face marked with the words “Wanted Dead or Alive.”
The one-time Virginia altar boy, now in hiding, is at the vortex of an enflamed, divisive, national furor that has reached the Oval Office and threatens to leave lasting wounds on America’s psyche.
Huge demonstrations and belated and overlapping investigations have transformed the scarcely-noticed killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin a month ago into a bitter national debate on race relations and gun laws in the United States.
Mr. Zimmerman hasn’t been heard from since he killed Mr. Martin after some sort of a confrontation last month. But he has been all-but-convicted in fevered public outcries.
“What makes all these people who are threatening George any better than the person they think he is?” said Joe Oliver, 53, an African American and friend of Mr. Zimmerman’s. “You’ve got all these people wanting to lynch the man, and they don’t know the whole story.”
Not quite lynch, but unsettlingly close.
The New Black Panthers, a fringe and avowedly racist group, has offered $10,000 for Mr. Zimmerman’s capture. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” said New Black Panther leader Mikhail Muhammad, adding Mr. Zimmerman should fear for his life.
Mr. Martin’s family have comported themselves with considerable dignity and his mother is expected to testify Tuesday to a Congressional committee looking at controversial ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws that make it legal to use deadly force in public if a citizen feels threatened.
Many others have sought political advantage.
Calls for patience and calm, like those from Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott have been mostly overshadowed by a clamor of swift, rough justice. “You want to be fair. You’ve got to be fair to that family – you feel sorry for Trayvon Martin’s family. But you’ve also got to be – you’ve got to have true due process for the accused, and this individual still is not even accused,” said Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
Mr. Zimmerman’s version of events is that after initially following Mr. Martin, he lost sight of him in The Retreat at Twin Lakes community and was returning to his vehicle when the teenager, much taller but far lighter, confronted him.
The teenager, on suspension from his Miami High School for marijuana possession asked him if he had a problem and then added: “Well, you do now,” Mr. Zimmerman told police in post-shooting interviews.
“He’s a caring human being,” Mr. Oliver said. “I mean, he took a man’s life and he has no idea what to do about it. He’s extremely remorseful about it.”
Lawyer Craig Sonner, who is advising Mr. Zimmerman, said Mr. Martin punched Mr. Zimmerman in the face, breaking his nose.
Mr. Zimmerman had a ‘concealed carry’ permit for his lawfully-obtained, 9mm Kel-Tec semi-automatic handgun.
Even President Barack Obama has waded into the fray, even as he insisted that he had a duty to remain out of it.
“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” the president said, sparking a fresh round of accusations.
Meanwhile, nearly three in four Americans tell pollsters that they believe Mr. Zimmerman should be arrested.