Robert Zimmerman Jr. sat down across from Piers Morgan on his CNN program Thursday evening and told his brother's side of the tragic shooting incident in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26 that left 17-year-old Trayvon Martin dead on the ground. His brother, George, has yet to be charged, even though he admitted to police that he shot and killed the young man. The case has taken on racial overtones, prompted social and political activism, and caused a national outcry for Zimmerman's arrest. But Robert Zimmerman Jr. says his brother was only defending himself, returning "force with force."
Zimmerman told Morgan that he wanted to dispel the "mythology" that had grown up around the shooting incident. He said that contrary to popular belief, his brother did not chase Trayvon. He said that when the confrontation between the two took place, it was Trayvon, not George Zimmerman, that instigated the violence.
In an interview where Morgan gave little ground and remained the skeptic, Zimmerman told how his brother -- who had conveyed the story to him several hours after the incident -- had made the 911 call regarding a suspicious person in his neighborhood. According to the older brother, George said that he had stopped following Trayvon once the 911 dispatcher told him he didn't need to continue. He said that Trayvon had somehow snuck around behind his brother.
Zimmerman told Morgan that it was after Trayvon asked if the self-appointed neighborhood watchman had a "problem" with him that he "attacked" Zimmerman. When Morgan asked him to explain how the altercation ended up with Zimmerman pulling his gun and shooting Trayvon, he said that his brother was only trying to keep Trayvon from disarming him.
He explained: "... what Trayvon said was, either to the effect of, I believe, this is going to be easy, you die tonight or you have a piece, you die tonight. And then attempted to disarm him. So when you say, "have a bag of Skittles and an iced tea,"nobody just stood there with a bag of Skittles and iced tea. You return force with force when somebody assaults you."
Zimmerman was referring to the public perception that his brother had shot an unarmed kid with only a bag of Skittles and an iced tea in his hands. Trayvon had been returning from a nearby convenience store on his way back to his father's girlfriend's house when the incident took place. Some media portrayals have centered on the supposition that the shooting was a case of racial profiling and the act of an over-zealous neighborhood watchman.
Piers Morgan also brought up the uproar over the recently released police video footage of George Zimmerman being led into the Sanford station without any tell-tale abrasions and bruising, markings that many believe should have been evident if Zimmerman's story of the altercation with Trayvon was true. Zimmerman had said that he had been knocked to the ground with one punch and that Trayvon had proceeded to slam his head into the concrete. The video does not seem to indicate anything untoward with regard to injuries to Zimmerman.
Robert Zimmerman said that medical records would exonerate his brother, from where he was treated for a bloody nose at the scene of the shooting and where he was treated for a broken nose the next day at the hospital. He also noted that his brother's nose looked swollen in the video. The police report also noted that Zimmerman had been bleeding from the nose and lacerations on the back of his head when law enforcement officers arrived.
As for the Trayvon's cries for help captured in at least one 911 call, Zimmerman told Morgan that those cries were made by his brother, whom he claims is now suffering post traumatic stress from the incident and trying to cope with the fact that nobody came to his aid, something that he believes could have averted the horrific outcome altogether.
And the supposed racial slur uttered by Zimmerman on one of the 911 call tapes? According to the older brother, his younger brother wasn't a racist at all and had never heard him use the more old-fashioned slur ("coons") some believe was said in the call. Part of the racial byplay in the tragic story has had to do the fact that Trayvon was black, Zimmerman white Hispanic.
Operating under the "Stand Your Ground" law, a legal regulation that allows for the use of deadly force in a life-threatening situation, Zimmerman's claim of self-defense was first thought unquestioned by the Sanford Police Department, a presumption that gave rise to the perception that the case was possibly mishandled or that there may have been racial elements involved. It would be revealed later that the lead detective in the case, Chris Serino, had requested a warrant for the arrest of Zimmerman on the night of the incident due to having doubts about George Zimmerman's account.
But Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee and State Attorney Norm Wolfinger decided to allow the case to be investigated more fully before issuing an arrest was to be made. Lee defended his department's actions by stating that an arrest was not made because of insufficient evidence at the time to counter the veracity of Zimmerman's story. He referred to the "Stand Your Ground" law as the basis for the non-arrest.
Both Lee and Wolfinger are no longer part of the case. The Department of Justice and the FBI opened independent investigations into the incident on March 19. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced cooperation in the investigations the same day. Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed Angela Corey as special prosecutor in the case to replace Wolfinger.
Police Chief Bill Lee offered to step down "temporarily" while the case was being reviewed. The Sanford city commissioners voted "no confidence" in his handling of the investigation the day before. They are also calling for an independent review of the police investigation following the incident.
A Seminole County grand jury will decide on April 10 whether or not to indict George Zimmerman on any charges.
At the interview's end, Robert Zimmerman Jr. told Piers Morgan that the entire situation was a "tragedy" and felt sorry for the Martin family's loss.
"And I want, in the end," Zimmerman said, "not for her [Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin's mother] son's memory to be seen as how we degraded our system and turned it into mob rule and went into a hate speech, you know, carnival of hatred..."
(photo credit: Orange County Sheriff's Office, Wikimedia Commons)