On April 10th, six weeks after the Trayvon Martin shooting, I contributed five dollars to a Paypal account George Zimmerman had set up. Not that I necessarily wanted to defend Zimmerman -- in fact I felt serious conflict about giving him even a dollar; I teach college in Miami and several of my students went to the same high school as Martin -- they knew him, testifying to his peaceful nature; also, the idea of shooting an unarmed man warranted skepticism and caution; plus the collective pathos of the country wanted Zimmerman's head; yet at the same time it seemed Zimmerman wasn't getting a fair shake.
From the get-go of the media blitz, as thousands descended upon Orlando carrying figurative pitchforks, it appeared as clear as a spring day that all-the-facts-weren't out. The media was still vetting its story.
Around this time, as the inevitable politicization began to take form, George Zimmerman decided to take our new media into his own hands. Unbeknownst to his attorneys, who quit shortly after finding out, he set up a website called The Real George Zimmerman where he sought donations for legal aid and living expenses. Before the site went defunct, in an update in his own words, Zimmerman pleaded:
I am attempting to respond to each and every one of my supporters personally. The support has been overwhelming in volume and strength. I thank you all and ask that you permit me the time to respond to each one of you personally. Thank you.
What a novel concept! Go directly to the people to plead your case. While the media, law enforcement and prosecutors put together the facts; while political pundits argue, point fingers and flame the delicate embers of race, this small-town nobody with his life on the line makes himself available to the world, seeking emotional and financial support during what must've been a trying and vulnerable time.
I liked it. Who wouldn't?
The availability. Intimacy. Access. More than any media outlet, here lay a direct forum to an ostracized, maligned, distorted human figure of our time. And for a Faustian donation, you could gain access to this character; for a relative price you could leave a fleeting comment and according to the man's own words, he'd try his best to respond. You could become a part of the story. It was a ticket to the circus.
The question became how much was admission worth? Not too much, considering.
But for a media that didn't have its facts straight; for a story impossible to trust; for an unprofessional rush to judgment; for trying to identify fall guys wherever possible; for all this, donating to Zimmerman felt like a perfect way to yell at the slimy MC (the media) for tipping its oversized top-hat too soon.
Since then, we've come to learn how much money Zimmerman collected, how he lied to a judge about his savings, how he was rescinded back into custody, bail revoked, how the judge set a new bond, and how he is a free man again. As of today, donations to Zimmerman's legal fund are surging. But is it too late? Has the circus not left town? Does he need money for a legal fund? He's getting ample council pro bono from lawyers who know publicity is payment enough. Or, is he simply manipulating the situation?
Zimmerman is not a woman bullied on a bus.
This guy is not a martyr; he's just a man on trial.
Unfortunately, the abstract notion of a media-at-large can't be his co-defendants.