In speaking about race and justice in America, Obama makes good use of bully pulpit, only without the ‘bully’ part

This story about the speech in the WSJ this morning summed up the challenge:

The remarks, delivered without a teleprompter, were a striking example of America’s first black president seeking to guide the country’s thinking on race without inflaming racial tensions or undermining the judicial system.

He managed to do that, and he did it just right. While the topic was a sensitive as all get-out, the president didn’t make a big deal of it. He wasn’t making a pronouncement, or proposing policy. He wasn’t speechifying at all. He started out by lowering the temperature, reducing expectations, making the whole thing as casual as possible without making light of it. It came across this way:

This isn’t really a press conference — we’ll have one of those later. Today, I’m just this guy, talking to you, sharing a few thoughts that I hope will help help black and white people understand each other a little. Not that I’m some oracle or something, I just have some life experiences — just as we all have life experiences — that might be relevant to share…

It was the president using the bully pulpit, only without the bully part. No-drama Obama. Just talking, not speechifying. Thought, not emotion, even though some of the thoughts were about deep, visceral feelings, and the way people act as a result of them. Just, “I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit…”

He had said earlier, on the dispassionate level — what needed to be said: The jury has spoken, and that’s that. He repeated that (read the whole speech here):

The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a — in a case such as this, reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works.

Going beyond that, he downplayed any expectations that his administration would somehow take up the cudgels against Zimmerman as a way of undoing that verdict:

I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government — the criminal code. And law enforcement has traditionally done it at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels…

This speech Friday was about trying to explore, just as calmly, the emotional reaction that causes such dissatisfaction with the verdict, appropriate as it may have been given the case:

But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.

In other words, look, a lot of white folks don’t understand why a lot of black folks react to this thing the way they do, and here’s my take on that:

There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.

And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.

Furthermore, a lot of whites may be laboring under the impression that black folks are blind to the fact that young, black men are statistically more liable to be dangerous, especially to each other:

Now, this isn’t to say that the African-American community is naïve about the fact that African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, that they are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context…

I think the African-American community is also not naïve in understanding that statistically somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.

So — so folks understand the challenges that exist for African-American boys, but they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it or — and that context is being denied. And — and that all contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different…

Oh, and in case you think he had some pompous, trite notion of launching something so grand as a “national conversation on race,” he deflated that:

You know, there have been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.

On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can; am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

Again, and again, his manner, his verbal cues, kept the intensity on the down-low: “watching the debate over the course of the last week I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit… And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but…” Throughout, he interjected the phrase “I think,” to make sure you knew he was just this guy talking, and not The Man, speaking ex cathedra.

Another thing that a lot of whites say about blacks is that they “talk about race all the time.” Well, Barack Obama certainly has not. He’s been the president, not the black president. But it’s a fine thing for America that when he does, on rare occasion, decide that OK, in this situation, maybe he should say something about the topic, he does it so deftly, so thoughtfully, so well.

Barack Obama, like any other presidents, has his strengths as well as weaknesses. Some of his strengths were on display Friday.


64 thoughts on “In speaking about race and justice in America, Obama makes good use of bully pulpit, only without the ‘bully’ part

  1. bud

    Brad you got a bit long winded there but you made some excellent points. I think this will be remembered as Obama’s finest hour.

  2. Burl Burlingame

    You can tell how effective these things are by the desperation of the countermeasures. FOXNews got Zimmerman’s brother to opine about the president’s bad manners in addressing the issues raised by a purely “local” crime.

  3. Sean Johnston

    He did a good job with some of the speech, especially about coming together for discussions. What he did not say is that he and Eric Holder spurred this on. It was a case that should never have been as prominently reported as it was and would not have been had the president not stepped in with his comments.

    Furthermore, he does not address the disintegration of the family, with single parent families proliferating. We have problems with kids having kids. We have problems with too many out of wedlock births. We have extreme problems with kids not being ready for school. All of these issues can be attributed to the lack of a male influence during the developing years of a young male.

    Mr. Obama has had the pulpit for years. He and his wife should have been promoting the intact and educated family. They should have stressed the importance of appearances. There are ways to maintain individuality but do so with pants pulled up.

    He has let us down. He tried with this press meeting but the problems with racebaiting continue. This weekend is a terrible response to the verdict. If he were serious about race relations, he would call out Sharpton and Jackson as well as the mainstream media for setting race relations back years.

  4. Bryan Caskey

    Meh. Nothing really insightful or memorable in the speech. This was the President’s way of gently breaking the news that the DOJ isn’t going to bring a federal case.

    Also, for anyone to believe the President’s “I could have been Trayvon” claim, you have to believe that Zimmerman killed Martin essentially in cold blood for the crime of being black, not in self-defense.

    For anyone who believes this speech was amazingly insightful, I would be interested to hear what specific insights they gleaned from this speech. What specific new insights did the President provide? “African American’s are shaped by their history and experience?” Wow. “Things are getting better?” Wow. “That could have been him?” Um, not really.

    Don’t get me wrong. Nothing in the speech was objectionable. It was really rather run-of-the-mill. What annoys me is that every time the President gives a speech, his followers can’t stop themselves from telling me it’s “Lincolnesqe” or “the most amazing oration” or it’s “next-level, three dimensional chess”.

    I’m tired of the swooning.

  5. Ralph Hightower

    I think the most powerful part was at the end where he talked about how his kids and classmates interacted; that each generation is getting better.

  6. Norm Ivey

    He hit exactly the right tone. Unfortunately, it will be ignored where it most needs to be heard because he has been dismissed so thoroughly by so many simply because of his race. What an ugly irony.

    President Obama will probably never achieve the stature of Lincoln or FDR (or Reagan in some circles), but I do think he will be remembered by history as being as measured and thoughtful as Eisenhower and as progressive as Teddy Roosevelt.

  7. Karen McLeod

    It did not cover any new ground; what it did was gently remind everyone of why the ones on either side, seem to see it as they do. That does a lot to calm the waters, simply because it replaces name calling with reason and understanding. And yes, it could have been the president when he was younger if he had been in Treyvon’s place. It wasn’t because he was black; it was because the young (alleged) thieves that the neighborhood were black. Mr. Zimmerman saw him, thought the worst, and decided to follow him. When that happened Treyvon decided to find out who was following him and doubled back. The result of these 2 decisions was tragic, and each side perceives it differently. Understanding the reasons why the other side sees it differently might, just might, keep another neighborhood “watchman” or a teenage boy from making the confrontational decision that led to this tragedy.

  8. Doug Ross

    What specific aspects of the Trayvon Martin case were related to racist activity? There is no evidence that Zimmerman was a racist. He followed Martin because Martin matched the profile of recent break ins.

    Al Sharpton does more to inflame racial angst in this country (and is paid to do so).

      1. Doug Ross

        Yes, so? Does that make it about Zimmerman’s views on blacks? There was no evidence he was a racist… in fact, there was more evidence that he wasn’t – he and his wife mentored young black kids.

        A lot of people who talk about race live their lives surrounded by people of the same race. Look around your offices, your circle of friends, your church, your kid’s activities… see much diversity there?

        1. Doug Ross

          Here’s a good test if you have Facebook. Check out all your friends. What percentage are not the same race as you? How many of those who aren’t have you interacted with socially or professionally in the past month?

          1. Doug Ross

            I just think people should examine whether their actions fit their words. If you work for a company that is lily white, it kind of questions your commitment to racial harmony.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Facebook isn’t a very good test, for me. About the only people I ever sought out deliberately are family members. I went through a period when I just approved everybody who asked, if I recognized their names at all or if we had friends in common. So that 1,000 or so people is sort of self-selected.

            But if you go to my church, or if you go with me to the Cap City Club, you’ll be pretty impressed by the diversity. The club looks like South Carolina. The church looks like the world…

    1. Mark Stewart

      I thought the “profile” was of early afternoon burglaries in the community? The Zimmerman profile was simply black kid wearing a hoodie (never mind the chilly rain that night). The “profile” was based upon nothing but suspicion and fear. Nothing.

      It does sound like Martin’s had the same basis – plus the actual stalking.

      1. Doug Ross

        You “thought”. That appears to be how you’ve viewed the entire case. How about looking at the evidence. From the court affidavit used by the prosecution to charge Zimmerman”

        “”During the recorded call Zimmerman made reference to people he felt had committed and gotten away with break-ins in his neighborhood. Later while talking about Martin, Zimmerman stated “these ***holes, they always get away” and also said “these f****ing punks.” ”

        Where’s the racism in that? As far as I know, the capacity to be a “f***ing punk” is not tied to blacks.

        1. Steve Gordy

          IIRC, all previous calls were related to suspicious young black guys. While not guilty in the eyes of law (properly so), George Zimmerman will always be remembered as a flabby Clint Eastwood wannabe who killed another person because he was getting his a** whipped in a fight.

          1. Doug Ross

            Sure, I’m fine with that description. But tell me where he demonstrated he was a racist? What did this case have to do with the overall racial climate in the United States?


          2. Scout

            What did this case have to do with the overall racial climate in the United States?

            Nothing. – Doug

            Really? Really? Even if, as you contend, Zimmerman wasn’t personally acting on racist motives, which I think is debatable but probably impossible to determine, there is no question that the bare facts of the entire scenario resonate deeply with lots and lots of bad experiences and misperceptions on both sides that fuel the negative aspects of the racial climate in this country.

            Really Doug – can you not connect these dots? It doesn’t have to be factually the same situation to resonate with bad experiences that color the way people view a situation and stir the whole thing up in their mind.

            Is that George Zimmerman’s fault? no. It still doesn’t mean he wasn’t a dufous for acting the way he did, whether he was motivated by racism or just bad judgement. It’s pretty damn unfortunate, though, that whatever his motives, the whole affair definitely played into the negative aspects of racial climate in this country.

            Here’s an interesting question, that we will never know the answer to – If it had been young white teenagers that were suspects in the recent break-ins and it had been a young white kid out walking that night, would Zimmerman have responded the same way – would he have made a call and gotten out of the car? Or similarly, if it had been young white kids that were suspects in the recent break-ins, would Zimmerman have responded the same way upon encountering Martin that night? We’ll never know, but those answers would be revealing.

          3. Doug Ross


            If Zimmerman is not a racist – and there is zero evidence that he is – then this case is not about race. Everyone wants to make it about race to pursue their own agenda. Speculation about other hypothetical situations just fans the flames.

            Young black on young black crime is far more of a problem than George Zimmerman’s alleged racism.

        2. Mark Stewart

          You dodged the facts, Doug. What time of day did the break-ins that torqued Zimmerman occur?

          Yes, I am thinking. That’s how I get through life.

          1. Barry

            Have to agree with Doug. I know it’s popular to consider Zimmerman a racist in this matter- but it doesn’t really make sense considering his background, and what he was doing.

            If the majority of crime in a neighborhood is related to young black males, it would only make sense to notice young black males. That doesn’t mean you ignore other people. It does mean that someone paying attention to such matters might notice young black males more than they would say a young white female – or a white guy, or two 50 year old black men dressed in suits and ties.

            I profile people all the time- and so does everyone else. It’s human nature to make decisions about people based on how they are dressed, act, talk, carry themselves, look. Everyone does it- including the President.

          2. Doug Ross

            Exactly, Barry. There are far more factors involved in “profiling” someone than just race. Age, sex, dress, mannerisms… we all do it.

            If you want to look for racism, there are far better examples than the Zimmerman/Martin confrontation. It didn’t become racial until after the fact.

          3. Scout

            Yea, we all do essentially “profile” all the time as we live our lives. It takes too much brain power to analyze every variable out there when you can perceive a pattern and have associations that tell you the way things usually work with that pattern. That’s why we know that fruits generally are going to be sweet and probably not taste like meat and that inference might influence our decision to try a new fruit. It’s why we don’t have to think about the minute differences in the way people pronounce different English vowels – our brains just recognize everything within certain parameters as being that vowel sound so that we can accept a wide variety of pronunciations and still perceive the intended word – even though as babies we heard those differences and foreign speakers may be confused by variations that we no longer even perceive.

            So yes, we are pre-wired to make these kind of associations (profiles) to help us understand our world efficiently. There is no question about that. Even so, these learning patterns and associations can be wrong. In the normal course of living, you constantly refine and tweak this learning as you discover the consequences of faulty assumptions – usually you have the luxury to do this without deadly consequences.

            Thus, there are times when it is prudent to be consciously aware of what is driving your actions and resist intuitive knee-jerk reactions (or profiles) when the consequences aren’t worth the risk of being wrong – i.e. some situations may call for a higher burden of evidence while profiling before acting. Carrying a gun is one such situation.

            I suspect that police officers get explicit training in being consciously aware of these kind of judgements. Which is why the dispatcher rightfully told Zimmerman to not get out of the car, knowing he was not explicitly trained to handle this situation.

            He might not have technically broken a law but as a person who chooses to carry a gun, I personally believe he failed to live up to the higher standard embodied in that choice – of being able to be aware of one’s judgement on a hyper conscious level and have the self discipline to react conservatively when the consequences may be deadly.

            Yea, I know I live in a dream world in hoping that such a standard will ever be realized. But still, it’s what I think.

  9. Karen McLeod

    Doug, it’s not about whether it was “racist”. It’s about how it’s perceived by different sections of society. Your statements plant you squarely on the side that sees it purely as a case of fitting a profile. No one is blind to the fact that a lot of crimes are committed by young black persons. Based on that fact, and the fact that there had recently been several crimes in the area committed by young black males makes suspicions of Treyvon reasonable. It’s also a fact that black men have been unjustly targeted when a crime has been committed, and have all too often been falsely convicted of the crime. It’s also a fact that Mr. Zimmerman not only suspected Treyvon, but got out of his truck and followed him, thus acting like a stalker, and a potentially dangerous person himself. Who actually attacked whom, and the exact circumstances under which the shot was fired were not witnessed by any third party. We don’t know what actually happened. Each side is making (reasonable) assumptions based on it’s experiences. I think that until each side is able and willing to understand the reality and reason behind the other’s assumptions we won’t be able to develop any realistic solutions the the multiple problems this case presents. We won’t even be able to talk about them.

    1. Doug Ross

      “thus acting like a stalker,”

      I can accept all of what you are saying, Karen, except the above. Zimmerman was not acting like a stalker. He was specifically acting like a neighborhood watch person approaching a person he had some suspicions about based on recent events in the neighborhood.

      Now, let’s consider what prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel said in a Pies Morgan interview last week.
      She was talking on the phone with Martin when Zimmerman approached.

      From the CNN transcript:

      “JEANTEL: Yes. Definitely. After I say, “Might be a rapist.” For every boys or every man, every who’s not that kinda way, see a grown man following them, would they be creep out? So you gotta take as a parent. You tell a child, “You see a grown person follow it you, run away,” and all that.”

      So, who’s doing the profiling now? A man following Martin is presumed to be a gay rapist? Where did that come from? And did it cause Martin to react aggressively toward Zimmerman?

      1. Scout

        ” “thus acting like a stalker,” (karen)

        I can accept all of what you are saying, Karen, except the above. Zimmerman was not acting like a stalker. He was specifically acting like a neighborhood watch person approaching a person he had some suspicions about based on recent events in the neighborhood.” -Doug

        Except for the small problem that his actions of 1) carrying a gun 2) getting out of his car and 3) confronting a potentially dangerous suspect are all specifically advised against in the guidelines of neighborhood watch programs. So no, he was not acting like a neighborhood watch person should.

        You seem to be grasping here, Doug. You contend that Martin may have been influenced by his friend on the phone’s “profile” that the guy might be a rapist – yet she also advocated running away given that ‘profile’ – which Martin did not do – so we have no grounds to suspect that he was influenced by anything she said, based on his actions, which are all we’ve got to judge by.

        But all of that is irrelevant. Yes all people profile. People who choose to carry guns and be in neighborhood watch programs are expected to behave with the judgement and discipline embodied by those choices, despite the fact that all people profile. Zimmerman did not do either.

        1. Doug Ross


          Zimmerman didn’t pull the gun until he was being beaten. The jury unanimously agreed. I’m not the one grasping here. If we’d seen a hung jury or a conviction, I would have agreed there might be some room for doubt. There was no stalking. There was no profiling beyond matching the description of recent break ins. That’s it. The only people who are grasping for anything are those who want to look beyond the facts of the case.

          1. Rose

            But the mere possession of a weapon can make a person more confident, more willing to take action than they would be if they were unarmed.
            Police officers do train, train, train, train, train with their weapons and potential scenarios and how to judge when and if to draw a weapon. I’ve heard this over and over from my husband that people who own weapons typically are not really adequately trained in how to use them. They know how to FIRE them, but not how to USE them. It is a profound and potentially tragic difference. (For that reason, my husband strongly disagrees with arming teachers – most people, even experienced gun owners, have a delayed reaction to hearing gunfire, particularly in a place where there should be none, and do not have police training on how to respond. ) And even with all that training, even cops still make horrible mistakes. Neighborhood watches are ONLY supposed to WATCH and report. Not take action.

          2. Scout

            I’m not discussing what was on trial so what the jury believes is irrelevant. I understand that the trial looked at the specific encounter and not the larger context that led to the encounter. We are discussing the context.

            You stated that he was specifically acting like a neighborhood watch person. He was not. That is a fact. Neighborhood watch people are advised to not carry weapons. They are advised to not approach suspects. He did both.

            Do you contest that?

            Whether or not you call what he did “stalking” – there is no question it was not “specifically acting like a neighborhood watch person.”

            I don’t care when or why he pulled the gun. That was not what we were discussing. It is a fact that he chose to carry a gun, regardless of when he pulled it – is it not? Carrying a gun demands a higher standard of behavior and responsibility. So when he pulled it is immaterial. He had it. He bore the responsibility to act accordingly. He didn’t.

        2. Kathryn Fenner

          Perhaps Trayvon also “profiled.”
          If it were so, it was a grievous fault/and grievously hath Trayvon answered it.

        3. Barry

          Zimmerman was an idiot – but there is no evidence that he pulled out his gun until he felt his life was in danger.

          There is no evidence (that wasn’t refuted) that he started the confrontation with Martin.

          Was he following him? Yes. Did he stop following him when he was instructed to stop? There was nothing presented that suggested he continued to do so.

      2. Mark Stewart

        Doug, Zimmerman was specifically acting as a self-appointed neighborhood watch person who ignored the directive of the 911 dispatcher. You can chose to identify that or not identify that as stalking.

        But you can’t deny that his approaching Martin, was bone-headed at best. They didn’t just cross paths while out walking. This did not begin as a random encounter.

        1. Doug Ross

          I thought this topic was about race and not guns or the proper behavior of a neighborhood watch person? Stop changing the subject.

          Zimmerman was legally allowed to carry a weapon. He did not use the weapon until he felt his life was in danger. That seems to fit a reasonable definition of using his own judgment in that situation. The jury agreed. Now, if you could show some evidence that he had the gun drawn and pointed at Martin when he approached, I’d say he was wrong. But simply carrying the weapon did not result in the confrontation that escalated to the point where Martin was killed.

          This had nothing to do with race. Prove otherwise.

          1. Doug Ross

            Help me out then, Mark. Please show me where Scout explained that George Martin’s actions were specifically motivated by his attitudes about black people in general and not about Martin matching the description of the people involved in recent breakins. I’m waiting to see the dots connected between America’s issues with race and Zimmerman’s background and beliefs.

            So far the only evidence we have is he approached a young black male who matched a description… and that he and his wife had previously mentored young black children. Two data points. Any more?

          2. Pat

            I wondered how Zimmerman would know Trayvon’s color since it was dark, raining, and Trayvon had his hood pulled up. On the other hand, the police did know Trayvon’s color and chose not to charge Zimmerman and did little to nothing to find out Trayvon’s identity. I think Zimmerman created the situation whether he was conditioned for it or not and I thought he was guilty of manslaughter whether he meant for it to turn out that way or not. It really wouldn’t have become a racist issue if the police had responded differently.

  10. Kathryn Fenner

    Far too many “accidental ” racists fail to see that they make judgments based on skin color first, rather than age, sex, demeanor, attire…I am pretty sure I have never received worse treatment on the street, as opposed to in the workplace, say, because of observable characteristics I have. There is no “thing” called driving while middle-class white woman. Far too many black males, most middle class or higher, tell a greatly different story. This is what POTUS was addressing.

    Only George Zimmerman, if anyone, can say what was going on his mind.

    1. Barry

      Many police officers these days are black. Get pulled over in Columbia and chances are the officer is a black male- about 25-40 years of age – and so is his supervisor- or even chief. It’s been that way for awhile too. Of course maybe they are like Jesse Jackson – who once admitted to being fearful when he noticed some black youth following him down a street.

      That’s not to dismiss that many blacks have been profiled – or questioned as to why they are driving a nice car. As a “white guy” who has had the occasion to be talked to like I was a piece of dirt by an officer during a routine traffic stop when I was a college student, nothing the police do surprises me.

      of course I’ve asked myself the question too while out driving and working- why a 19 year old black or white youth is driving a $72,000 Mercedes in a terrible or questionable neighborhood at 11am in the morning. Of course I can’t admit that in public out of fear of being labeled a racist or worse for even noticing someone’s skin color in the first place.

      Many people are twisting the facts regarding Zimmerman. It serves their interest to have him be a raging racist intent on hurting some black people when he just happened to get lucky and jump on Martin.

  11. Karen McLeod

    Zimmerman was not stalking, and Martin was not committing a break-in, but they both looked that way to the other. The result was disaster.

  12. Bart

    Sorry but this is going to be long but I hope you take time to read and digest what is offered for your consideration.

    After reading the comments and opinions from both sides of the issue, I decided to forego any of my conclusions of the tragedy that were based on anything the news or biased commentators on either side had to say and do some honest research. After spending more time that I normally would on an issue, when all of the available information that could be verified was read, reviewed, and analyzed, it became apparent that the charges of racial profiling were not accurate, the accusations that Zimmerman was a coward, punk, and stalker were personal opinions based on nothing but speculation, and that Trayvon Martin was anything other than a young black male who had gotten into some trouble and shared a lot of the same cultural practices as did his peers. His cellphone cache that was hidden is probably nothing more than a lot of bravado about his tough guy persona. At the age of 17, he was not an adult and still had too many immature notions about life and based on the testimony of Jenteal, misconceptions about grown men following him with the intent of sexually assaulting him.

    Trayvon was in Sanford because of some trouble at school and he had been expelled. Like most young males, he had his fair share of hormones and testosterone that drove his behavior and without a full time father at home, like so many young men or boys; he lacked a lot of the discipline necessary to keep him on the right path.

    On the other side, George Zimmerman was not the thug, coward, or murderer he has been portrayed to be. If anything, Zimmerman wanted to be the best person he could and tried to fit in and be a productive member of his community.

    After going back and doing a thorough review of the police report, recorded interview after the shooting, the voice stress analysis test, and the video of the walk-thru with the police, a couple of things didn’t add up and they bothered me. First was his account of how he spread Trayvon Martin’s arms after shooting him and Trayvon was laying on the ground face down. Zimmerman made a point to tell the police how he had spread his arms and held him down to stop any further fighting or physical confrontation. But, the police report made it clear that when they arrived, “The black male had his hands underneath his body”.

    Next, Zimmerman had difficulty with the street name and address so he could give the police accurate information. The Retreat only has three streets, Retreat View Circle, Twin Trees, and Loan Oak Way, and one walkway from one street to the other. Once I discovered Zimmerman was on two medications, it made sense that he might not be able to have a clear recall due to the side effects of the medications he was taking. The information on the drugs is listed further down.

    Nothing in Zimmerman’s history indicated he held any racial animus toward blacks. If anything, his history of activism on behalf of a homeless black man who was beaten by the son of a former police official was well reported along with his history of tutoring young black children.

    Trayvon Martin was sent into a situation that was probably not known to his parents. Over a 13 month period up to 2 days before the shooting, the police received 402 calls from The Retreat and over the period, there were 8 burglaries, 9 thefts, and 1 shooting. The police reports support the fact that the burglaries were committed by young black males.

    Based on the information available, there are several obvious facts that were never addressed or discussed or at least I was not aware of them. First of all, based on the medications Zimmerman was taking, he should have never been given a carry permit. Zimmerman was on two medications, Restoril and Adderall. Restoril is used to treat insomnia and Adderall is used to treat ADHD. Both have serious side effects. Second, he shouldn’t have been the head of the Neighborhood Watch. Third, when he saw Trayvon Martin and determined that he presented a potential threat to the community, after calling the police, he should have remained in his vehicle because that is what the members of the Neighborhood Watch were instructed to do, avoid confrontation or following anyone.

    Given the fact that GZ was an active member of the community and most likely the guy who could be described as the neighborhood busybody, for him to have reacted any differently would be drawing an incorrect conclusion. During an 8 year period, George Zimmerman made 46 calls to the police non-emergency line. However, he did not move to The Retreat until 2009. He did what he thought was the right thing to do and if you consider the potential influence of the medications he was on, his judgment was flawed.

    When the original police report was written, the Offense Section was more accurate than what the state charged GZ with because of outside political pressure. The original offense was listed as; “Homicide-Negligent Manslaughter-Unnecessary Killing to Prevent Unlawful Act”. If this charge had been used to prosecute George Zimmerman, it is highly likely he would have been found guilty unless his medical condition would have been used as a legitimate defense.

    In the end, it was the gathering of all of the elements necessary to produce the perfect storm that led to the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. Each of us must decide if it will be our personal ideology or common sense and reasoning that prevails.

  13. Kathryn Fenner

    Thanks, Bart. Great analysis.

    I do hope, as a neighborhood busybody, nothing that happened will dissuade any of you from calling the non-emergency police number (252-2911 in Cola) whenever you see something that strikes you as odd or out of place. Just don’t take matters into your own hands.
    If you see something, say something!

  14. JoanneH

    Some thoughtful analyses on here. I’ve been curious about this ever since this horrible situation has played out. Knowing full well it’s not admissible, did Zimmerman every submit to a polygraph? I have watched his walk-through of the scene as he remembered it, but it didn’t ring true with me. So I just wondered if anyone knew or had read that he had taken one.

    And, Bart, well said.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      The evidence and testimony are consistent with Zimmerman’s account of what happened. So is the lie detector test (voice stress analysis) which Zimmerman passed shortly after the shooting, and which confirmed that he was telling the truth. (The jury was not made aware that Zimmerman even took a lie detector test.)

      Zimmerman also passed the “bullshit detector test” of not one but two veteran police officers who expertly and vigorously interrogated him, without defense counsel present.

      1. Mark Stewart

        Here’s the thing; if he believed what he said, he passes. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that what he said actually – or accurately – reflects what really happened. Not saying he could have been delusional, but there is lots of room to question the version of events that Zimmerman told. Human perception and true telling can be miles apart without someone realizing how stilted their viewpoint and version of events may be objectively.

        1. Bart


          It is evident you simply do not believe Zimmerman – period. That’s fine, its your opinion. Two people can look at the exact same thing and see something totally different. Does that indicate one who differs from what you see is wrong or not being truthful?

          1. Mark Stewart

            No it doesn’t. I’ve said I present my opinion.

            The thing is, there is only one story that was told here. It may be entirely accurate (though I still think him wrong to exit his vehicle and give chase – especially when armed) as to the altercation that ended in the shooting. Or Zimmerman’s version of what happened could be colored by his own perceptions.

            You don’t want to use Zimmerman as an example of what I object to in offensive use of firearms cloaked in self defense? How about the guy in Sumter who shot and killed a repo man who had mistakenly approached the wrong vehicle in the old guy’s carport instead then? That situation does have a corroborating witness, though hardly a disinterested third party.

          2. Bart


            Per my comments for clarification:

            “Third, when he saw Trayvon Martin and determined that he presented a potential threat to the community, after calling the police, “””he should have remained in his vehicle””” because that is what the members of the Neighborhood Watch were instructed to do, avoid confrontation or following anyone.”

          3. JoanneH

            Thanks for the information to Bart and Mark.

            I am reminded of Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard quip: Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.

            Subtract one from each side of the equation. I’m still very skeptical of the story being told. Perhaps it’s my experience as a high school teacher who works with youths like Trayvon.

            But the judgment is in; we have to abide and accept.

      2. Bart

        “Zimmerman also passed the “bullshit detector test” of not one but two veteran police officers who expertly and vigorously interrogated him, without defense counsel present.”….Bryan

        One of the bits of information uncovered but not included in my analysis was that two of the police officers who arrived on the scene and investigated the shooting were the same two police officers Zimmerman had named in public when they were the investigating officers when a former police official’s son had beaten a black homeless man for no reason a couple of years prior and the investigation was poorly handled. Zimmerman organized a rally to protest the police departments handling of the case and it is a matter of public record. Zimmerman also criticized the police department after a ride-along and described them as “lazy”.

        Draw your own conclusions.

  15. Juan Caruso

    “First was his account of how he spread Trayvon Martin’s arms after shooting him and Trayvon was laying on the ground face down. Zimmerman made a point to tell the police how he had spread his arms and held him down to stop any further fighting or physical confrontation. But, the police report made it clear that when they arrived, “The black male had his hands underneath his body”. – Bart

    Thank you, Bart. Facts are certainly required for meaningful analyses. George Zimmerman “made a point to tell the police how he had spread his arms and held him down to stop any further fighting or physical confrontation.”

    Your new facts raise many important unanswered questions. Two of them are key:

    “First was his {GZ’s] account of how he spread Trayvon Martin’s arms after shooting him and Trayvon was laying on the ground face down. … ” But, the police report made it clear that when they arrived, “The black male had his hands underneath his body”.

    1- If not dead, Trayvon may certainly have managed to move his hands under his body himself (try it). If so, there is not any disconnect in the position of Trayvon’s hands after death and GZ’s account.

    “… held him down to stop any further fighting or physical confrontation.”

    2- Which brings up what has not even been mentioned yet in this blog: Weapons training (CWP and cops) makes a point to expect that your own weapon can be used against you by violent assailants. On the ground and on his back being beaten by an assailant, GZ knew that if Trayvon got to his gun first, he might well have used it (consistent with the threat he had allegedly made).

    Illicit violence is as inexcusable when perpetrated by one citizen as any another. Had Trayvon been taught to shun violence (except in self defense) rather than gang gotcha, guess what, amigos?

  16. Doug Ross

    Bigger hero? George Zimmerman who helped people escape from a burning car or Charles Ramsey who helped another guy open a door?

  17. Scout

    Here is a question for all the lawyers out there (or anybody who might know). Why is the context of what led to the interaction not relevant to the plea of self defense – as it apparently was not here? Is that just a Florida thing, or is that standard most places? It doesn’t seem right that the law would protect an instigator at the expense of one goaded into responding, but if context is not relevant, it would seem that could be a possible outcome.

    For instance, if someone broke into your house and you pulled a gun on him, but he shot you before you could shoot him when he saw you pull a gun – could he claim self defense? I suspect the answer is no because he was committing a criminal act at the time – and I realize that Zimmerman’s act, though ill advised, was not technically illegal – and that may be the difference – but it still seems like some consideration should be given to whether or not you played a role in causing the interaction which endangered you, in order for self-defense to be a valid legal defense.

    1. Silence

      Scout – you are correct that one can’t claim self defense while commmitting a crime, such as your example of the home invasion. It’s not illegal to follow a suspicious person (or any person) in a public place, like a sidewalk or street, last time I checked.
      SCOTUS has ruled in the past that certain “fighting words” are not protected speech, but I don’t think that seeking redress through extrajudicial means is ever legally permissible. Perhaps one of the attorneys would weigh in.

      1. Doug Ross

        We have to stop using loaded words to describe the Zimmerman – Martin situation. The use of words like stalking, goading, and instigating suggest behavior on Zimmerman’s part that is not supported by the evidence.

        Did he initiate contact with Martin? Yes. Did he intend to get into a fight with Martin when he initiated contact? There is no evidence to suggest that. He approached a person who fit the description of recent break ins. From that point, we have no idea what transpired to cause it to escalate.


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