Something's missing from the hours of video and audio recordings released last week that, for the first time, let us hear George Zimmerman explain in his own words what happened the night he shot Trayvon Martin.
What's missing? Any sign of the rampant racism that the case was tagged with since it grew into an international sensation.
Yet in the hours and days following the shooting, long before Zimmerman — or Sanford police — could have conceived that the case would attract the eyes of the world, race was barely mentioned at all.
Zimmerman never once brings up Trayvon's race until directly asked by police to describe the 17-year-old's appearance.
His apparent lack of interest in the matter continues to debunk the popular narrative of the shooting: that Zimmerman is a racist who targeted Trayvon because he was black.
Investigators asked him several times why he considered Trayvon suspicious.
Zimmerman offers a variety of reasons that may or may not be valid: Trayvon was an unfamiliar face in a neighborhood where Zimmerman says he knew everybody; it was raining and Trayvon looked to be walking too leisurely, as if he was scoping out houses; and Trayvon "looked like he was on drugs."
Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, never said the thing you might expect to hear from a racist: that Trayvon was suspicious because he fit the too-general description — black teenager — of suspects in recent neighborhood burglaries.
If Zimmerman was preoccupied with the color of Trayvon's skin, it stands to reason that he would have mentioned it early on, before he knew the world was watching. How could a racist resist the temptation to mention race?
It didn't come up until — near the end of one interview recorded the night of the shooting — a detective asked him what Trayvon looked like. Zimmerman provided a description: African-American. Early 20s, late teens. About 6 feet. Slender build. Hoodie and sweat pants or jeans (Trayvon was actually wearing khaki pants).
A lot of what Zimmerman says during the interviews doesn't add up.
That's a column for another day.
The central theme for months has been that George Zimmerman was motivated by racism, an accusation yet to be backed up by facts.
Three days after the shooting — again, well before the wall-to-wall media coverage — Sanford Investigator Chris Serino calls Zimmerman back in for another interview.
Serino sounds unconvinced of Zimmerman's story. He questions Zimmerman repeatedly about how the fight started and confronts the issue of racial profiling head-on.
He asks Zimmerman why he considered Trayvon suspicious.
"He was looking at the house intently," Zimmerman says. "... It's raining; he's not walking briskly to get out of the rain. I said, 'Something's off.' "
Serino asks, "Had this person been white, would you have felt the same way?"
Zimmerman immediately answers, "Yes."
Later, Serino briefly tries to get at the issue again.
"You got any problems with black people?" he asks.
"No, sir," Zimmerman answers without hesitation.
You could argue that Zimmerman would never make such admissions to police.
Maybe. Zimmerman's credibility is certainly in question, especially after his wife was charged with lying in court about their finances.
And there are stories from a former co-worker who said Zimmerman made disparaging remarks about him because he is Middle Eastern. Zimmerman made also made disparaging comments about Mexicans on an old MySpace page.
But stack that up against the evidence that contradicts the popular image of Zimmerman as a man who went after Trayvon because he was black.
Zimmerman and his wife reportedly mentored two siblings, who are black. When a homeless black man was sucker-punched in Sanford by a white police lieutenant's son — who wasn't immediately arrested — Zimmerman chastised the department at a public meeting for its handling of the case.
And then there are his own words, in the hours after the killing, before Trayvon's name became a rallying cry for civil-rights activists.
Racism remains an ugly part of our culture. Racial profiling is real. And racism can extend beyond overt forms of discrimination and into the more subtle assumptions made based on skin color.
But given what we know, we need to face the possibility that the judgments about George Zimmerman having racist motivations are also unfair. And wrong.
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