Reading Between the (Head)Lines

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George Zimmerman: The Mind of the Shooter

George Zimmerman called 911 46 times in 15 months.

"I am Treyvon Martin!"

Those four words are resonating around our country. You can't turn television on and not hear it within the hour. Go out and you'll see blacks and whites with hoodies, making a statement without saying a word. New Facebook profiles are sporting hoodies, and without uttering a sound everyone knows you're supporting a cause.

At the heart of this movement are two unlikely individuals. One was a 17 year old black youth, Treyvon Martin, returning from a convenience store with an Arizona iced tea for him and a bag of Skittles for his soon-to-be stepbrother because they were going to watch a basketball game together. The other was a 26 year old Hispanic, self-appointed Neighborhood Watch captain and criminal justice major, George Zimmerman. When the paths of these two individuals crossed, a dead teenager lay on the sidewalk and Zimmerman was claiming innocence due to the 'Stand Your Ground' law.

What was behind Zimmerman's shooting and killing of Martin? What was he thinking and what was his motive? 911 call tapes reveal he arguably made a racial slur and everyone can clearly hear the 911 dispatcher ask Zimmerman if he's following Martin, to which the answer was yes. The operator then instructs Zimmerman not to do that.

Was Zimmerman truly fearful of his life? Did he suspect Martin of illegal activity? If the answers are "yes," then the question becomes, is it because he was black and wearing a hoodie?

Let's analyze Zimmerman's mind-set: He mentioned to the 911 dispatcher that there had been several burglaries in the neighborhood, and NBCMiami confirmed that there were 8 burglaries within the last 15 months, and that most of those were by young black men.

Zimmerman had called 911, 46 times during those 15 months, one of them being on April 22, 2011 to report a suspicious 7 year old black boy. A 7 year old boy? Clearly Zimmerman's was paranoid, angry and perhaps fearful. When he saw a young black male walking with a hoodie, his mind associated this with the prior burglaries and immediately jumped to the conclusion "guilty!" At that point what is a "neighborhood watch captain" to do? Why, be the hero, of course.

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This led him to follow Martin. When he sees something in his hand his pre-conditioned brain immediately thinks "weapon" and when the confrontation developed, Zimmerman, as a criminal justice major understood ‘stand your ground' and twisted this into a justification. Then as things escalated and a scuffle began, his mind racing with jumbled emotion, fear, anger and thinking he was in the right, he drew the gun and shot Martin.

Trayvon Martin's death is clearly a tragedy in every sense of the word but it has nothing to do with ‘Stand Your Ground', gun control or the second amendment. This is about psychology and badly warped judgment by a single individual. A perfect storm of events, misperceptions and, yes, prejudice.

In terms of preventing a recurrence in the future? Education would be the place to start. There is no law that would have prevented this—you can't legislate good judgment.

Dale Archer, M.D., is a clinical psychiatrist and author of The New York Times bestseller, Better Than Normal: How What Makes You Different Can Make You Exceptional.


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