by Jen Giacalone
I promised myself I wasn’t going to talk about George Zimmerman. The sight of the guy’s face generally makes me near-apoplectic, and that’s on a good day. How you shoot an unarmed kid in the chest and walk away with nothing, not even a month’s community service picking up trash by the freeway, is beyond me. But this other problem has been burning in my brain since we shared the story of his most recent brush with the law.
To recap briefly, his current girlfriend called 911 during a dispute with him, in which she says he smashed her coffee table and then pointed a gun at her. A shotgun. Nothing says I love you like a twelve-gauge to the chest, I suppose. This scene quickly escalated into dueling 911 calls, in which he appears to sound calm and reasonable, explaining that he didn’t really point anything at her, and that she actually broke the coffee table, not him. The world is full of miserable relationships between crazy people of various genders. Of course none of us were there, so we don’t really know, but if this were a dispute between any couple in the world that didn’t have the baggage of George Zimmerman, we’d probably be more hesitant to hazard a guess.
But it wasn’t any other couple. It was George Zimmerman and his girlfriend. It was the guy who was, only a few months ago, picked up for allegedly pointing a loaded gun at his wife and father-in-law. He claims the father-in-law attacked him, and again, we’ll never know. In any other situation, with any other people, with the limited information that we get as “the public”, it would probably have been hard to tell.
But here’s the thing: we don’t hear about many of the other situations. We hear about George Zimmerman’s domestic abuse raps because he’s a famous killer. That’s what the press finds interesting about him. He killed an unarmed kid in what surely looked to my untrained eye like a racially motivated attack. He’s either lionized or demonized for that act depending on who you talk to. That’s what makes him so fascinating to the people who decide what’s news.
He had a very high profile trial, he walked free when a lot of people felt he should have done time for what he did, and now the media is obsessed with his every move and using every idiotic scrape he has with the justice system to continue to stoke the outrage around him and fuel the speculation over whether his trial was botched or not.
But as we prepare to relive that outrage one more time, it’s also worth remembering that the only reason his domestic violence stories are worth the press’s time is because of who he is. Because he’s George Zimmerman. And when we hear about his speeding tickets, or how he gets caught with weed in his glove box, or waves a gun around inappropriately, or whatever insane, stupid, bench-ticket-worthy offense he may commit, that coverage is sucking time and attention away from domestic abuse situations that DON’T involve George Zimmerman. The literally thousands of domestic violence situations every single day that don’t involve George Zimmerman.
Of course I’m outraged that this guy is still allowed to walk around, still allowed to own a gun, still allowed to enjoy the life and liberty that he stole from Trayvon Martin. Of course.
But I’m also just as outraged that someone like him, of all people, is what it takes to get domestic violence talked about in the mainstream media. You have to be famous, or infamous, for people to care. And even then: Saatchi choking Nigella Lawson in a restaurant earned him a “warning” from the London police (“Stop! Or I’ll say stop again!”), and the long list of scary ways Charlie Sheen has terrorized women seems to get a shrug from, well, everyone. A lot of people conveniently forget Mel Gibson’s history with terrorizing and verbally abusing his girlfriend, or else chalk it up to him being a “a little nuts”. Chris Brown still has a career. It’s another day in America. We don’t have an organization at the national level advocating for this cause, the way that, say, breast cancer does. So not enough people with serious clout are working the media on it. Nobody’s feeding them the real stories, or explaining to them how to handle it.
Zimmerman’s a celebrity of sorts, his antics are click-bait, and I get that if you are a media outlet, you have to get eyeballs to pay the bills and keep the lights on. I’m not saying the press should never report on the abusive behavior of famous people; that would amount to enabling. But it’s deeply problematic when that’s the only time you hear about it. Domestic violence then becomes this salacious thing that happens to celebrities. So, if I could say one thing to the wizened grey heads at say, CNN, it would be this: if you care about domestic violence as an issue, how about covering it like journalists? There are plenty of tabloids to chase dirt. Why not devote some space and time to the other hundreds of thousands of people who are suffering with this anonymously every day?
It’s just a thought.