Zimmerman's Brother: 'Truth Will Be Revealed In Court'

Unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed one year ago today. Host Michel Martin speaks with Robert Zimmerman Jr., the brother of accused shooter George Zimmerman, about his brother's actions that night and the upcoming trial.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Later in the program, we will hear about a new study that says that the effects of bullying can last for years beyond childhood both for victims and for bullies. This is important new information for educators and parents. We hope you stay with us for that conversation.

But first, one year ago today a Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin was visiting a family friend in Sanford, Florida. He headed to a local store to buy some snacks and on his way back to the home where he was staying he was shot and killed by a man named George Zimmerman. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, says he thought the teenager was acting suspiciously.

How that happened and why that happened are matters to be aired at a criminal trial set for later this year. But over the course of the year that has passed, the case has sparked a lot of intense debate about race, guns and the laws surrounding self-defense. At the center of the discussion has been the family of Trayvon Martin who pressed authorities to file charges in the case after they were initially reluctant to do so.

Yesterday we heard from the mother of Trayvon Martin, Sybrina Fulton, as well as the family's attorney, Benjamin Crump. Today, we hear another side of the story. Joining us now from member station WMFE in Orlando, Florida, is George Zimmerman's brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr. Welcome to the program. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN JR.: Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: First of all, how is your brother? How are your parents? And how are you?

JR.: George is recovering. He's better. He obviously has an impending legal matter before him that's very important. But he's a participant in his defense, which encourages our parents. And we have full faith in his representation and we're very happy that he's been so active in it.

MARTIN: How are your parents and how are you?

JR.: They're doing better. You know, my parents' health took somewhat of a turn when this all happened. Our dad was already in the hospital. So it's been kind of a very tumultuous year for him. He was in the hospital for heart problems. Mom is coping. She's very much the glue that holds the family together. And I'm doing well, all things considered.

MARTIN: I noticed that you are doing some interviews - not many, but some. I noticed that you were on Bill Maher's program on HBO last week. You're doing this one. We appreciate that. Is there some particular message that you want to get out at this time?

JR.: You know, I think the ultimate message, which is the truth, is going to be revealed in court. You know, we have that system for that reason, for spreading truth in the right venue. But I think there were some things that had to do very little with truth in the events of that night that kind of gave the story the impetus it needed to be spun and misdirected into this racial narrative. That happened, unfortunately, because, in my opinion, people are not patient with getting the results of an investigation that was going on at the time.

Somebody tragically lost their life that night and from what we know now that's been released, the police were very active in their investigation of exactly what had happened that night. But unfortunately, we jumped to conclusions at the time that the police department was not doing anything, to use the words of some.

For example, Ben Jealous in the NAACP was doing nothing to investigate George. And that's unfortunate that people think that. It's more unfortunate that they jump to the conclusion that it is because either the police department or the state attorney's office or George or any combination of those were racist and were sweeping a murder under the rug for racist reasons.

MARTIN: You know, to that end we had Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin's mother, on the program yesterday. And she said to us a number of times that she does not want this to be seen as a racial matter. She said she wants her son to be seen as a teenager, not as a black teenager. I wanted to ask if you think that that's true and is there a particular way that you want this whole matter to be seen?

JR.: You know, I'll take Ms. Fulton as her word. I seem to remember earlier things, though, where she said, you know, my son is dead because of the color of his skin. And that's not that, you know, subject to interpretation. You're pretty much saying because someone is black that's why they're dead. Their attorneys went out and made the case repeatedly for misguiding the public into believing - and the media accepting their words as truth - that George was some kind of racist.

I think we're having a serious conversation now about guns, about race, about law and I, to that end, will add my voice to the conversation when appropriate. But I don't think it helps the situation to make this exclusively about race because at the end of the day when the facts do come out in court, a lot of people who made it about race, I believe, are going to have egg on their faces.

MARTIN: On some of the interviews I've seen, particularly the one most recently with Bill Maher, you made a point of saying that your mother is afro-Peruvian. Why do you think that matters? And if you don't mind, I do have to ask before this happened...

JR.: Sure.

MARTIN: ...which you have made a point of saying she's afro-Peruvian, did you and did your brother see yourselves as people of color?

JR.: Absolutely, growing up. We grew up in Manassas, Virginia and we were integrated, assimilated, of course. We grew up here. We're Americans but we were profoundly aware that we were a little bit different because of the way we did things at home. We made cultural distinctions growing up more so than race distinctions.

And in our culture in Peru there's many different cultural or racial lineages woven throughout Peru. So I made it clear because I've been asked. And I think it's important now that we're talking about things and trying to talk about the truth, just to show that George was not and will not ever be a white man as he was touted to be.

MARTIN: But that also implies that another person of color can be racist and you wouldn't make that argument, would you?

JR.: No. I think, inversely, it also implies that the rallying cry for George not being credible was the word white. And it should not be the case in this country where either you're white and therefore a liar, or any race and therefore a liar. Or you can just simply accuse someone of racism and then one has to go about retroactively defending themself(ph) from the charges. It would make more sense to actually have proof, evidence, you know, anything before you go throwing around a word like that - racist - which is a real word and which racism is a deplorable thing. And that word applies to some people, but before we go throwing around that word to actually have some inclination or indication that that might actually be the case.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us we are speaking with Robert Zimmerman Jr. His brother, George Zimmerman, has been charged with second degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. That death occurred a year ago today. Mr. Zimmerman, there's also been some controversy about whether your brother used a racial slur in his call to the police. For people who have not - I know you've addressed this before but everyone may not have heard you address this before.

So to your knowledge - I know you weren't there - but did he use this racial slur in his discussion with the police when he initially made the call?

JR.: Well, sure, it's not just to my knowledge. It's, you know, even to the state's knowledge, to the prosecution, to everyone who's joined in, in the investigation; the Justice Department, the FBI. Nobody has come forth and said he used a racial slur. I think that one of the double-edged swords of media this day, of social media, is that we're kind of informing a public the way they want to be informed.

And that didn't come from any official source. That came from current TV's "The Young Turks" is my recollection. Which I also appeared on that program to kind of rebut that word. And these are the same people who claim later we don't want this to be about race. So when there is no racial storyline, when there is no racial slur, when the person's race is unknown, what conclusions were drawn is we'll just make one up.

We'll just edit and remix sound and we'll just keep referring to this person as white. Or when we really find out that he's Hispanic, we'll just throw in the word white Hispanic. Which is not a standard we apply to everybody. We certainly don't call the president a white black man.

MARTIN: Well, he describes himself - and the census - not to parse your words - the census says very clearly that Hispanic people can be of either race or of any race. And the president chooses to identify himself in a certain way. One other point, though, that I don't think anybody disputes, is that your brother says on the tape, they always get away. Who is that they he was referring to? Do you know?

JR.: Yeah. I don't want to get overly evidentiary, just out of respect to the sanctity of the judicial process that's going to start, but keep in mind, now, there is some unawareness, it seems, that George was calling a non-emergency number. And he had been waiting to be connected to a person to take that call. It's not always the same as when you call 911 and someone answers and says what's your emergency?

So I think what happened there was that George lived in an area that was affected and afflicted with crime constantly. And perhaps he was referring to people who the police are coming to check out, get away before the police come to check out because he called the non-emergency number.

I don't think it helped, you know, to say anybody always gets away. But I think it had, again, much less to do with color and much more to do with the reality of the community he was living in and the response time.

MARTIN: At the end of the day, though, the operator told your brother not to get out of the car and he did - or not to follow. I'm sorry. He told him not to follow the young man.

JR.: Right, right, right.

MARTIN: Why did he get out of the car?

JR.: Well, this is a great example of how even someone as informed as you are and in the media - you know, today, here we are, a year later, and there's still this persistent, nagging storyline of - was told to stay in the car. And I don't blame you or other people. It's been very strategic how this has been pitched.

MARTIN: No, no. I agree with you, actually. I agree with you on the - I agree with you on the fact. So let me restate that. He said - the operator asked him, are you following him? He said, yes, I am. Right? Going from the transcript.

JR.: Sure.

MARTIN: And then he said, we don't need you to do that.

JR.: Right. And then...

MARTIN: But it is not disputed that your brother, at some point, did get out of the car. Right?

JR.: Right. And - right.

MARTIN: 'Cause how else was there a confrontation? So can you tell us why he got out of the car?

JR.: Right. Well, looking at the totality of that, what the operator said - and that's just an edit of what the operator said - they also said, when George said, yeah, he's running. They said, which way is he running? Can you tell us, you know, which way he's going? To paraphrase. Then, George's car door opened, not one minute before, so I think that people who are engaged with who they perceive to be, you know, the police, by emergency number or non-emergency number, sometimes, at the prompting of dispatchers - and this has happened to me - you have to stay safe, but you get in these situations where you're led to believe that you're the eyes and ears right now for this person on the phone. And, when they ask you, which way is he running? Can you tell which way he went? And you get out of your car to do so, you may have made a mistake. You know, you may call the police and find yourself in something similar, but then that person on the other line walks it back from there and says, we don't need you to do that. And that's where that mistake was corrected.

MARTIN: To your point, my understanding - just to be clear - I understand you - it's your understanding that the version of events which, again, you didn't witness, but the version of events that you've been - that's been relayed to you by your brother is that, at some point, he got out of the car to, what? Look at the addresses? And that young Mr. Martin attacked him. Is that his point? Is that what you're saying happened?

JR.: The reason that George got out of his car was prompting by the dispatcher for a more specific location. The dispatcher told him, we don't need you to follow Mr. Martin. Presumably, George was following him to give them a more specific location, such as, for example, he just walked into 123 Retreat View Circle.

What's hard to get about all this without a map in front of you is that we're looking at the backs of houses the whole time. George was, Trayvon was. It wasn't the front of houses, so people are confused as to why did he get out to get a better address? Couldn't he just look up? You can't just look up because it's the back rows of the backs of homes, so George continued on a path to look for a street sign. There was no street sign and he continued back to his car and much has been made about, you know - is the timing perfect? Is he telling the truth?

But nobody seems to ask how it was that Trayvon Martin was there to encounter or confront George to begin with. He was ambushed by the time he knew anybody was there. Mr. Martin had already said his first few words to him and George reached for his phone and got his nose broken and the attack continued from there.

MARTIN: We need to take a short break here and we hope you'll stay with us as we continue our conversation with Robert Zimmerman Jr. He is the brother of George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman is the man charged in the death of the unarmed Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin. It's been a year since his death.

I'm Michel Martin and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

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