Just six months before Zimmerman's encounter with Martin, two men had broken into the home of a neighbor, Olivia Bertalan, while she was alone with her infant son. She had just enough time to call 911 before running upstairs and locking herself in a room. The burglars knew she was home, but proceeded to rob the place anyway, even trying to enter the locked room where she held her crying child.
Bertalan had seen the burglars just before they broke into her house -- one at the front door and one at the back. They were young black males. They lived in the Retreat by Twin Lakes.
In another case, a black teenager strode up to Zimmerman's house and, in broad daylight, stole a bicycle off the front porch. The bike was never recovered.
Weeks before Zimmerman saw Martin, he witnessed another young black male peering into the window of a neighbor's house. He called the cops, but by the time they arrived, the suspect was gone.
A few days later, another house was burglarized. The thieves made off with jewelry and a new laptop. Roofers working across the street had seen two black teenagers near the house at the time of the robbery. When they spotted one of the teens the next day, they called the police.
This time, the roofers followed the suspect so he wouldn't get away. The cops arrived and found the stolen laptop in his backpack. This was the same black teenager Zimmerman had seen looking in a neighbor's window.
The only reason it's hard to imagine the Zimmerman case with the races reversed is that it's hard to imagine a white teenager living in a mixed-race, middle-class community, mugging a black homeowner. This is not a problem of society's reactions, but of the facts.
There is, however, at least one case of a black homeowner fatally shooting a white troublemaker. He was not charged with murder.
In 2006, the ironically named John White was sound asleep at his nice Long Island home when his teenage son woke him to say there was a mob of white kids shouting epithets in front of the house. The family was in no imminent danger. They could have called 911 and remained safely behind locked doors.
But White grabbed a loaded Beretta and headed out to the end of the driveway to confront the mob. A scuffle ensued and White ended up shooting one of the kids in the face, killing him.
White was charged and convicted only of illegal weapons possession -- this was New York, after all -- and involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to 20 months-to-four years in prison, but after serving five months was pardoned by Gov. David Paterson.
With all due compassion for the kid who was killed, the public was overwhelmingly on the father's side -- a fact still evident in Internet postings about the case. The kids were punks menacing a law-abiding homeowner. Even the prosecutor complained only that Paterson hadn't called the victim's family first. The local NAACP had campaigned aggressively on White's behalf. There were no threats to riot in case of an acquittal.
The centerpiece of White's self-defense argument was his recollection of his grandfather's stories about the Ku Klux Klan. George Zimmerman's memory of young black males committing crimes at Twin Lakes is somewhat more recent.
John White wasn't jumped, knocked to the ground, repeatedly punched, and his skull knocked against the ground. He wasn't even touched, though he claimed the white teen was lunging at him. Talk about no reason to "follow," there was no reason for him to leave the safety of his locked home. White's son knew the kids by name. They could have waited for the cops.
So, yes, this case probably would be very different if Zimmerman and Martin's races were reversed. It is only when the victim is black that we must have a show trial, a million-dollar reward paid to the victim's parents and the threat of riots.
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