The senseless death of Trayvon Martin weighs heavily on our hearts and minds and has fueled marches around the world calling for the shooter, George Zimmerman’s arrest. “The case has resonated for many who say Martin died because of stereotypes of young black men as violent criminals. The shooting is already being compared with high-profile and historic civil rights cases” (USA Today, Trayvon-Martin-Teen-Shot-Stereotypes).
The tragic case played out in Sanford, Florida when Trayvon Martin left his father’s home to buy candy and iced tea for his little brother at a nearby 7-Eleven. He was on his way back home when 28 year old George Zimmerman, the volunteer neighborhood watchman, spotted Trayvon and called 911 to report a suspicious person. Against the dispatcher’s advice, Zimmerman, who was armed, followed Martin. Allegedly, the two men fought. Trayvon Martin was left dead. Zimmerman claims the shooting was in self-defense.
But who is George Zimmerman, a self-appointed watchman, or a racist or vigilante, or, as a good neighbor said, a “good dude”? (Miami Herald; Daily Beast, Trayvon Martin Outrage). How are we to understand these dramatically polarized perceptions of Mr. Zimmerman? We may benefit from the psychological conflict of James Thurber’s book character Walter Mitty. You may have already recognized the title of my post today as a play on words from Thurber’s book that Goldwyn Mayer made into the movie called The Secret World Of Walter Mitty (1947). Danny Kaye plays Walter, a milquetoast proofreader for a magazine publishing firm. Walter is constitutionally incapable of standing up for himself, which is why his mother has been able to arrange a frightful marriage between her son Walter and an overbearing woman. Walter muses over the lurid covers of the magazines put out by his firm, to cope with his boring, humdrum world, in which he has not control. Fantasy as opposed to reality has become his refuge from deep insecurities and a sense of worthlessness. He retreats into his fantasy world, where he is heroic, poised, self-assured, and the master of his fate. Walter fancies himself a Navy war hero, a world-famous surgeon saving a very important person’s life, a crack shot being interrogated in the courtroom, a British pilot willing to sacrifice his life for his country, and a bold, brave man about to be shot by a firing squad. Retreating into this secret world keeps Walter sane and able to cope with his circumstances.
Is there a secret world to George Zimmerman as well? Is he the hero of his fantasy world? It seems as if George fancied himself a self-appointed protector of the law, despite that reports disclose that he had broken the law in the past several times. In the days that followed the shooting, we learned that George Zimmerman aspired to become a law enforcement officer. Zimmerman attended Seminole State College, which has a law and public safety program. In 2008, he applied to the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office program for citizen law enforcement.
Was becoming a self-appointed neighborhood watch dog a way for Zimmerman to cope with frustrations of not realizing his wish to have a career in law enforcement? It’s psychologically possible. It is Zimmerman’s over-zealousness in carrying out his watchman duties that made my psychological ears perk up about his emotional makeup. It seems as if Zimmerman was vigilant in this role, calling the police on suspicious persons more than 16 times since January of 2012 (Thinkprogress.org). His over-eagerness to catch the bad guys is unsettling, but especially so in the case of Trayvon Martin, where Zimmerman ignored the 911 dispatcher’s request for him to stay put and let the police officers take over. Altogether, the details of this story thus far cause me to speculate about George Zimmerman’s inner-world.
Resolution of Opposites in Behavior
Is Zimmerman a racist and vigilante or ‘a good dude’? (Daily Beast, Trayvon Martin Outrage)? Perhaps, he is both. Ambiguity is part of human nature. Actually, Freud formulated his theory on the ambiguous nature of human beings. He referred to the self-interested, darker part of us as the id and to the socially-interested and acceptable features of us as the ego. We have the developmental task of reconciling the differences between the two so that our identifications with social norms becomes greater than our hedonistic urges. Our darker urges do not fully go away, however. They lurk below in our secret inner world. But, most of us have achieved adequate enough development that the risk for acting out these dark impulses is low. We have many socially-acceptable avenues to release these antisocial urges, like rap music, books, video games, and movies that emphasize counter culture impulses.
Zimmerman’s darker impulses may have surfaced that tragic evening. The facts still have to become clear to know for sure. But, the polarized accounts of Zimmerman’s character suggest opposite emotional strivings in him. It’s possible that Zimmerman’s identification with social norms was not strong enough to keep a lid on his darker urges. Therapists call this weak ego strength. Perhaps, that fateful evening was a perfect storm of circumstances that unleashed the worst of Zimmerman and put him into a place where he went from assisting to becoming law enforcement itself.
This is just food for thought. There’s still much to learn about the details of this case. Like so many of you, my heart hurts for what Trayvon Martin endured that tragic evening and for the suffering of his loved ones. We can only imagine their suffering.
If you liked my post today, please say so by selecting the Like button below. As always, I value your thoughts and comments. Warmly, Deborah.
Image in today’s post from: VashApocalypse@deviantart.com