So I watched The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell last night, in order to find out what the deal is with Joe Oliver. Oliver has been making the media rounds recently in defense of his “friend”, George Zimmerman. Oliver believes that Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin last month without being arrested or charged, has been treated unfairly by the press and the public. As part of his PR blitz on Zimmerman’s behalf, Joe Oliver sat down to be interviewed on O’Donnell’s show last night. Unfortunately for Mr. Oliver, it didn’t go quite as smoothly as every other interview he’s done before.
You’ve probably seen this interview yourself already, or heard about it somewhere by now. If not, you can check it out here (part one) and here (part two). But to summarize, after determined and spirited questioning by O’Donnell and guests Charles Blow and Jonathan Capehart, the insight that Joe Oliver claimed to have about the character and temperament of George Zimmerman was revealed to be largely non-existent.
Oliver has been doing his best to try and persuade people that the George Zimmerman he knows is a “kind, giving and caring human being”, and that as far as the shooting of Trayvon Martin goes, “race had nothing to do with it.” Oliver presents these opinions with the weight of fact in every interview he does. Last night, for the first time, someone finally called him out on it. By the time the interview ended, Oliver himself was reduced to admitting that he wouldn’t characterize himself as a “close friend” of Zimmerman’s. After being pressed on why exactly he has been offering himself up as a trustworthy character witness when he is seemingly no more than an acquaintance, Oliver conceded, “You’re right…my role in this just doesn’t make sense”.
Now, here’s the thing about all this. George Zimmerman may well have been the wonderful, shining example of humanity that Joe Oliver claims he is. And this shooting may not have been racially motivated. It is actually possible that all of these things are true. But Oliver seems to be selling these lines as fact to the public by pointing out, repeatedly, that he is an African-American man himself. He’s basically trying to validate his opinions by arguing that he, of all people, should be able to recognize a racist when he sees one, and that the very fact that he and George Zimmerman are friends proves that Zimmerman is no racist.
Well, I am here to call bullshit on that premise.
I live in Florida, and unfortunately, I have come to know some people with racist views in the years I’ve lived here. I also know that people with racist views can, and often do, strike up relationships with people of other races. The type of relationship that it seems Oliver had with Zimmerman is not uncommon. They apparently worked together, and had little social contact outside of casual, group settings. It’s not as if they were BFFs and talked or went to hang out together all the time. They just knew each other in a loose sort of way, and were friendly when they saw each other. But being friendly is not the same as being friends. And I do know people who have this exact same type of relationship with blacks, Latinos, Asians, etc., even though they still harbor some racist sentiments and behaviors toward those very ethnic groups.
I also know that this sort of relationship sometimes happens specifically so that the racist can claim they’re not actually a racist. It’s a classic line people use when they want to defend themselves from accusations like that. “How could you call me a racist? I got black friends!” Just like the “some of my best friends are Jewish/gay/whatever” mentality that people use to excuse the politically incorrect things they sometimes do or say. So when Joe Oliver goes on TV running his mouth about how Zimmerman must be a swell guy, ’cause if he wasn’t he wouldn’t be friends with a Negro like me, I just want to throw up. Reality check, dude: if you’re the blackest black guy he knows (or, as far as I can tell, the only black guy he knows), that does nothing what-so-fucking-ever to prove to me that he’s not a racist.
I understand that Joe Oliver thinks that the George Zimmerman who pursued and shot Trayvon Martin is not the George Zimmerman that he knew as a “friend”. But they are one and the same, despite Mr. Oliver’s disbelief. People sometimes act in ways that we would consider to be uncharacteristic of them, but that doesn’t mean shit. I might live next to someone in my neighborhood for 20 years, and then find out one day that the cops raided his home and found a meth lab, or a monster stash of child porn. And I could legitimately go on TV and tell reporters, “Well, he was always so nice to me. I never heard him say anything that would make me think he could do such things. I just can’t believe these accusations are true!” But if they are true, then whether I liked the guy or not is irrelevant, and so is anything I have to say in his defense.
The other factor that Joe Oliver may want to consider is that people are capable of anything, given the right set of circumstances. Again, I swear to God that I don’t know whether George Zimmerman is a racist or not, and maybe he never uttered a racist word in his life before February 26th. But on that night, while he was following Trayvon Martin, he was recorded on a 911 call using what sounds like the slur “fucking coons”. It happened, and there’s no way around that fact. Whether this was due to a long-standing dislike of black people, or whether this was just some wanna-be cop momentarily pumped up on his own bravado, I do not know. And neither do you, and neither does Joe Oliver.
Oliver has also characterized George Zimmerman as “a caring human being”, the insinuation being that because he thought of him this way, it’s not possible that Zimmerman could have instigated the altercation that left Trayvon Martin dead. Again, this is utter bullshit. Let’s not even consider the racism thing for a minute, because what this is about, at its core, is a guy who started something that he shouldn’t have started, regardless of the reason. To be honest, despite the racial overtones to this case, I strongly believe that Zimmerman may easily have acted the same way with a white kid, if that kid also looked “suspicious” to him. George Zimmerman found a whole lot of people “suspicious” during his time patrolling his gated community. It seems like he appointed himself responsible for protecting his neighborhood, and it also seems that he’s someone who took it really, really seriously.
But he probably got a little too comfortable and a lot too aggressive in that role. The gun he carried, while legal, wasn’t necessary or advisable for a neighborhood watchman. And the fact that he had this gun on him, and the general image he had of himself as some future law enforcement big shot, could have emboldened him a great deal that night. He had already contacted local police 46 times before to report various incidents and issues in his neighborhood, and according to reports from residents, there had been several cases of break-ins, burglaries and vandalism there in recent months. In addition, he had a history of aggressive behavior, and had been directed to take anger management classes after one such incident occurred.
With all these factors combined, it’s possible that George Zimmerman may have reached the point where he confused being vigilant with being a vigilante. For all any of us know, he was eager to act out some Dirty Harry fantasy, and Trayvon Martin just happened to be the kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Had it been a white teenager with a hoodie that Zimmerman didn’t recognize, things may still have transpired the same exact way. Even if you remove race from the equation, George Zimmerman’s temperament and his self-identification as the guardian of his neighborhood may have been enough to light the fuse anyway. As “caring” and “kind” as Joe Oliver believes Zimmerman to be, there is every possibility that he did in fact act as the aggressor in this case, and for Oliver to object to that possibility based on the fact that he had a friendly relationship with the guy is ridiculous.
The bottom line is, we don’t know exactly what happened yet, and we won’t until a thorough investigation is complete. In the meantime, what we do know is that George Zimmerman got out of his truck to follow Trayvon Martin, and that as soon as he did that, he made himself accountable for everything that followed. He may have done it because he was racially profiling Trayvon based on his skin color. He may have done it because he thought he was some law enforcement expert with the right to pursue anyone he thought looked “suspicious” in order to protect his neighborhood. He may have wanted to be a hero. He may have just been itching for a fight. Whatever his reasoning, he chose to interfere instead of letting the police do their job, and as a result, a 17-year-old ended up dead. No matter what sort of spin Joe Oliver wants to put on this, those are the simple facts, and the man who played the biggest role in it was his “friend” George Zimmerman. And now that we know that he wasn’t even all that close to Zimmerman, by his own admission, I think it’s time for Joe Oliver to stop with all the cheerleading and just STFU.
UPDATE: Jonathan Capehart just posted a piece on the Washington Post website regarding this interview and the conclusions he’s drawn from it. You can check it out here.
The ObamaCrat.com: Mr. Joe Oliver – Not So Close (Black) Friend Of George Zimmerman