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Your black best friend isn’t an “Unfamiliar Black Male”


I’m getting more than a little annoyed with the self-righteous proclamations of conservatives that George Zimmerman’s been proven innocent of profiling by virtue of his acquittal on charges of manslaughter and murder. The evidence all points to Zimmerman becoming increasingly obsessed with the presence of black males at his apartment complex in the months leading up to Trayvon Martin’s death. Prior to April 2011, Zimmerman’s 911 calls were the work of the neighborhood busybody. For example, he called to report:

  • 12 August 2004: “a male in a green Ford pickup”
  • 20 August 2004: “an open garage door”
  • 27 April 2005: another “open garage door”
  • 17 March 2005: “pothole that is blocking the road”
  • 21 September 2005: “a stray dog”
  • 10 June 2009: “fire alarm going off”
  • 7 September 2009: another “pothole in the road”
  • 22 September 2009: “yellow bike … doing wheelies”

But starting in August of 2011, Zimmerman’s calls took on a decidedly different note. He reported:

  • 3 August 2011: “[a] black male last seen wearing a white tank top and black shorts,” who he “believes … is involved in recent [burglaries]”
  • 6 August 2011: “two black males … in their teens”
  • 23 September 2011: yet another “open garage door,” but specifies reason for calling is “neighborhood watch [meeting] last night”
  • 1 October 2011: “two black males … 20 – 30 [years old] in Chevy [possibly] Impala at the gate of the community,” about whom Zimmerman’s concerned because he “does not recognize [the subjects] or [vehicle] and is concerned due to recent burglaries”
  • 29 January 2012: children “running and playing in the street”
  • 2 February 2012: “[black male last seen wearing] black leather jacket, black hat, printed PJ pants [who] keeps going to [the same] location”

And then on 26 February 2012 he calls about Trayvon Martin. There’s a pattern here obvious to anyone without an investment in not seeing it. What began as annoying 911 operators with pointless complaints escalated to notifying the authorities any time he saw a black male he didn’t know. The argument that he’s not racist and wasn’t profiling is based on the fact that he “mentored black children” and “had black friends” and is entirely beside the point, because it presumes that he’s an overt and deliberate racist. Those who make it claim victory when they demonstrate that he never wore a white hood or bedecked his body in Nazi ink.

I’ll grant that that Zimmerman didn’t pine for the days of short ropes and sturdy limbs.

I’ll grant that he didn’t dream of goose-stepping down the Champs-Élysées in his dress browns.

But I won’t grant that race didn’t color his judgment when it came to young black men with whom he wasn’t personally acquainted. From 3 August 2011 forward he’s increasingly — and almost exclusively — concerned with unfamiliar black males in his apartment complex. Maybe confirmation bias is more the problem here than racism, but the fact remains that the bias being confirmed is that young black males are suspects until proven otherwise. You can’t look at the 911 calls in the months immediately prior to the shooting and argue otherwise. (At least not honestly.) He transformed from a harmless nudnik into someone very concerned with the presence of unfamiliar black males, which at the very least means that by 11 August 2011 his worldview contained the category “Unfamiliar Black Male” and that the presence of people belonging to it warranted calling 911.

That’s indisputable.

Whether he volunteered the race of Trayvon Martin to the 911 dispatcher or responded to a question about it is immaterial. As evidenced by previous calls, this one was triggered by the presence of an “Unfamiliar Black Male.” And as the escalation of 911 calls indicates, he was becoming increasingly frustrated with the presence of people belonging to this category. Because, in his words, “These assholes always get away.” You can argue that he’s simply referring to generic burglars of an undetermined and irrelevant race, but doing so requires ignoring the larger context of Zimmerman’s recent 911 calls in which all the subjects were of a determined and relevant race.

But if you want to make that claim in order to win an argument with someone on the Internet, by all means, please tell me about call from 2007 in which he reported seeing two Hispanic males with a “slim jim,” or the one from 2009 in which he didn’t identify the race of the people “going into the pool and trashing the bathroom.” Feel free to ignore the cluster of calls immediately before the shooting in favor of the ones from three and five years previous, because we all know that beliefs don’t develop and concretize over time. While you’re at it, continue to insist that people who instigate confrontations are in no way culpable for their outcome. You know why? Because to everyone but you your argument amounts to this guy:

Being in the moral right to shoot away should he decide that the danger he sought is more dangerous than he thought it’d be.

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