Today’s STFU: Joe Oliver, you don’t know George, and you don’t know jack

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  Mr. Joe Oliver – Not So Close (Black) Friend Of George Zimmerman


10 thoughts on “Today’s STFU: Joe Oliver, you don’t know George, and you don’t know jack

    • Oh, by the way, for what it’s worth … I think Joe Oliver is in this for his “15 minutes of fame” and that’s all. A media whore. Maybe even a “token black” for the Zimmerman defense team to battle the charge of racism? This story just gets more idiotic.

  1. So I have become very saddened by all of the ‘open-minded’ people out on the web that think its ok to espouse hated as long as it is against someone they may not agree with. Chris, you seem like a sincere person but the posts I have read from you so far are hardly ‘fair and balanced’. They seem riddled with judgments based on pure speculation and ideology. I am so saddened by the way this country has reacted to this Trayvon Martin case. It has been nothing but a 21st century lynch mob out for blood. And you are right in the middle of it with your torch and pitch fork. You are relentlessly attacking this man, Joe Oliver, simply because you ‘think’ he is misguided and wrong (or you want him to be wrong). I agree with you, George Zimmerman could end up being a racist dirt-bag. But it may also be true that he is not. We don’t have all of the facts; We do not know! Maybe he is a man who cared about his community, made some really stupid decisions and ended up kicking off a chain of events that ended in tragedy. If, by chance, the second option is true then doesn’t he deserve due process? IN this country even dirt bags deserve due process. The media and hate mongers out their (in this case the people who espouse hated in the name of fighting against racism) have been doing everything they can to ensure this ‘is’ a racially charged event and have already tried and convicted him in the press. Just look objectively at how it has been reported. The pictures they have used to portray both Zimmerman and Trayvon, the 911 tapes that were edited in poor taste (only an idiot would be convinced this was an accident). I could go on. An ‘open minded’ person would see this obvious lack of objectivity. Yes, I believe the police should have acted more quickly. But with how emotionally charged (and potentially violent) this case and its spectators had become, do you blame them for wanting to make sure they had ‘all’ their ducks in a row before making a charge? We are so quick to assume the worst in people. Why do we all ‘want’ to see hatred everywhere we look? And here you are judging and condemning Mr. Joe Oliver for trying to share a side of this story that the media won’t touch. This man, who is closer to this than any of us, sees what he considers an injustice and decides to speak out. Maybe he is wrong, as you speculate, but why are we assuming the worst and simply crucifying him as well. Let’s take a step back and be a little objective. Let’s let all the facts come to light and make judgments based on those not on emotions and what we ‘think’ is true. One family has already been tragically hurt. Let’s not, unnecessarily, destroy another. For all the reason our enlightened culture claims to have, emotionalism still seems to reign supreme.

    • I have a feeling you must be doing some sort of “cut & paste” job, where you post the same comment to everyone you can find who writes about George Zimmerman, no matter what that person is actually saying. Because it’s pretty clear from what you wrote that you HAVEN’T read all my posts.

      I haven’t tried and condemned George Zimmerman in any of my posts. I have condemned the law enforcement officials who seemed to want to sweep this case under the rug, until the national attention started and they realized that they couldn’t. Based on the evidence, the special prosecutor found reason to bring a charge of 2nd-degree murder against George Zimmerman. The evidence that convinced her to bring this charge is substantially the same evidence that the Sanford Police Dept. had access to in February, yet they did not feel they had reason to even arrest George Zimmerman at that time. The detective who handled the case that night did, in fact, recommend a manslaughter charge, but he was told not to proceed with that. This fact alone tells me that the law enforcement officials involved did not handle this case correctly. And every post I have written, including this one, says that an arrest and a fair trial are the only way to resolve this case appropriately.

      What I object to about Joe Oliver, and Robert Zimmerman, and anyone else who came out to talk about George Zimmerman’s character, is that none of them knew what happened that night any more than you or I did. And whatever they knew about his character prior to that night does not matter. Only the facts pertaining to the events of that incident are relevant. All the testimony that matters is what is said under oath in a court of law. George Zimmerman will now have the opportuity to present character witnesses, and evidence, and arguments on his behalf. If that information proves that he should not be convicted, then so be it. But anyone who gets in front of a camera outside of a courtroom and tells the world what a great guy he is is wasting their time, and the public’s time. If they say what they have to say under oath in a courtroom, and the evidence presented there supports what they have to say, then I’ll listen. Until then it’s meaningless.

      OK, now you can go find another blog that criticizes Joe Oliver or something, and paste the same comment there too.

  2. First off Chris, I assure you that my original comment was written for, and only exists on, this site. I really do appreciate you letting my comment in and responding to it. That does say something for your character. I do have to admit that I had not read any of your other entries specifically about George Zimmerman. In large part my reaction was a response to the aggregate sentiment out there. Your blog entry just happened to be the last one I read (the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back).

    You have to admit though that this post is a bit reactionary as well. The title itself tells me that your opinions of Mr. Oliver are mostly based on emotion. And the overall tone is very accusatory. How is what you are doing any different than what he is doing (aside from the fact that he actually knows one of the parties)? He is sharing his opinions based on the evidence he has. His evidence is that George is not a racist. Because of his proximity to the issue, his words are getting more attention than yours (and now more scrutiny, which is good). The interview you cited was very combative (you called it ‘spirited’). The interviewers in question had their minds made up before the interview began. He wasn’t questioned, he was attacked. In my mind Joe Oliver has come across to me as a man who feels an injustice is happening and the right thing to do is to stand up. And he is being denigrated by those who have already made up their minds about what has happened. It may come out that Mr. Oliver is completely mis-guided. But why do we hate him for doing what he feels is right in the meantime? If you had a friend, or close acquaintance, that you thought was being unjustly accused, I would hope you and I would have the courage to do something similar.

    Furthermore there is all this outrage and hatred (not you specifically) toward Joe Oliver yet you don’t hear a fraction of that outrage about the $10,000 bounty put out on Mr. Zimmerman’s head by the Black Panther party (a blatant criminal act). Or what about the inaccurate tweet by Spike Lee that put the lives of an elderly couple in danger? And those are just the big ones. Why did they seem to get a relative ‘pass’ for those actions? That’s not rational and it is a sad commentary on the state of public opinion and news.

    Chris, I wish you the best. I did go back on read a few of your other posts and have to admit that I did enjoy several of them and agreed with quite a bit. While you do seem to be a believer in due process (I have now read several of your statements to that fact) and are willing to let the justice system play out, you also seem to have made up your own mind about his guilt. Your sarcastic, literary eye rolling, writing style says a lot about the way you see the world (I am not judging, just observing). That style, while mostly very entertaining, carries a lot of subtext when writing about politically and racially charged topics. I do apologize that your blog got chosen as my platform for unloading some of my disappointments on our nation’s reaction to this case. But I can honestly say that I have enjoyed the discourse.

    • Daniel, if I was mistaken about your comment, I apologize. It just seemed to me to have the hallmarks of a “serial cut -&-paste commenter”, since it only partially reflected what I’ve actually been writing. I appreciate your honesty about not having read all my other posts prior to leaving your comment. I also appreciate the fact that you have gone back to read them after the fact, and that you can see I haven’t been trying to wave any “torches and pitchforks” around in this case.

      Having said all that, I have to take issue with the assessment of this post as “reactionary”. It was based on simple common sense, after seeing Joe Oliver essentially being unable to defend his own status as a close friend of George Zimmerman (he took pains to walk that description back during the interview). Oliver may have wanted to speak out for someone he knew, but that doesn’t automatically mean he deserves a national audience to do so. Does it make sense to have everyone who ever knew Zimmerman in some casual capacity go on national television to discuss opinions about him which have no legal bearing or significance whatsoever? What is the point?

      The way that the media has begun to circumvent the legal and judicial process in this country is alarming to me, and people like Joe Oliver (as well as the media figures who feature him and allow him an unchallenged platform) are a part of this very big problem. If you need to see an example, look at the Casey Anthony case. Between Nancy Grace, and every other person who either sat at a table that Casey Anthony served when she was a waitress, or drank with her in a bar, or whatever, we all were inundated with information about this woman for months. But none of that information mattered. NONE of it. And the net result was public debate and inflamed emotions about the case, which boiled over when she was acquitted, because everyone who watched Nancy Grace just KNEW that she was guilty, even though none of us were in that courtroom. Casey Anthony, the lawyers who defended her, and even the damn jury were immediate targets and had to deal with anger and threats from a public that felt entitled to do these things based on the time they’d spent watching sensationalized and irrelevant crap about the case on TV. That, to me, is not the way it’s supposed to work in this country. And it is poised to happen all over again in this case, because the hype machine is rolling and everyone who can possibly do so is jumping on board, even if they have nothing of significance to contribute and are just adding to the circus-like atmosphere.

      I also have to address the idea that you think I have made up my mind about George Zimmerman’s guilt. I have definitely made up my mind about his accountability, and for good reason. He was, undeniably, the man who shot Trayvon Martin and killed him. And I was disgusted that he was not being held accountable right from the start. I am astounded that someone who took the life of another human being, under any circumstances, could go home and sleep in their own bed that night. The Sanford police took it upon themselves to act as judge and jury that night, and they essentially dismissed all charges – or, in fact, the very idea of any charges. Again, this circumvents the legal and judicial system and it is not the way things ought to go in America.

      And, now that we know that there was an affidavit filed, on the night of the incident, which recommended that a manslaughter charge be filed, it is even more astounding to me that nothing happened that night, or any other night, for a month and a half. If it had been my child who was killed, and I felt the police were dragging their feet (or worse yet, simply denying or ignoring the situation), I can guaran-damn-tee you that I would have been as publicly vocal as Trayvon’s parents were. If anything, I doubt I would have been as measured and as steady in public statements as they have both been. And the fact that they had to do so much agitating, and go through so much effort, in order to simply get the authorities to do what they should have done weeks ago, is a real disgrace in my opinion. So yes, I am emotional about the idea that George Zimmerman was not held accountable until 2 days ago. But I do still think he deserves a fair trail and I just want that process to begin sooner rather than later, for the benefit of everyone involved in this case.

      I hope what I’ve said makes some sense, and I’ve also appreciated the discussion. I have no problem allowing comments that are critical of my posts, as long as they are relatively reasonable and respectful. So thank you for applying that sort of consideration in your comment. You’d be surprised how many other people don’t, although those folks’ comments never see the light of day around here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s