HLN Contributor Jason Johnson discusses the trial of Michael Dunn for the shooting death of Jordan Davis, the jury selection and the role of stand your ground in the defense.
One of the worst things that can ever happen to you in life is to meet a celebrity. Yes, there are those rare stories of friends meeting some celebrity who is very nice, or the urban legend about the charming superstar who pays for everyone’s dinner, but for the most part, the less you know the better. Celebrity works because we don’t know them personally, and don’t know anyone like them so their antics from the big screen to the small screen to drag racing in South Beach are just stories.
Celebrities are fun to talk about until the next distraction pops up. For many Americans, George Zimmerman IS a celebrity, which explains why he’s not only planning to do a pay-per-view boxing match with rapper DMX, but why this won’t be his last foray into public debasement.
I spent a great deal of time in and around the Zimmerman trial. I traveled to Sanford, Florida, met with Trayvon Martin’s parents, their attorney Benjamin Crump, met Zimmerman’s PR team and one of his criminal justice professors. I watched and covered about 90% of that trial from jury selection to the not-so-surprising-to-anyone-that-watched final verdict.
In other words, I got closer to Zimmerman than most other people ever have or would want to be. But most Americans never got that close to this trial. They watched highlights on the evening news and talked about it on social media, and that’s exactly what celebrity boxing promoter Brandon Feldman is banking on.
It’s been a little less than a year since the high-profile trial, and while Zimmerman’s name is uttered with disgust and hatred by many segments of the population, for a lot of Americans he’s “That guy who did that thing to that kid in Florida.” He’s blurred into Mike Tyson or Casey Anthony territory, his train-wreck, post-trial life and any desperate grabs for public attention are just accepted: It’s celebrity boxing now, but soon it’ll be a clothing line and next year a sex tape.
Most Americans have never dealt with a gun-toting neighborhood watch captain. Most Americans have never been racially profiled, harassed by store security, or attacked by a police officer or someone who thinks they are.
More importantly, most Americans have never lost a son, a younger brother, a classmate or a teammate to gun violence. To these people, Zimmerman is just a gun-toting Paul Blart from the “Mall Cop” movie who went too far and is using his celebrity to cash in on 15 minutes of fame.
Those future celebrity boxing viewers who don’t make a distinction between a man who killed a kid, and Mike Tyson or Justin Bieber are very lucky indeed. Lucky to have lived the kind of detached perfect lives where no one they know has ever been murdered, lost a child, sexually assaulted or hurt by a drunken driver. That’s what Feldman, the promoter, is banking on, that anyone can be a celebrity as long as there’s enough distance between them and the public.
Anyone with an ounce of decency and empathy knows full well that Zimmerman, DMX and celebrity boxing are at their core, cashing in on the shooting of a 17-year-old.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in America who don’t have decency and empathy. They will watch anything and anyone do anything so long as it is on television. And the fact that Zimmerman killed Martin makes him no different that Danny Bonaduce, Dustin Diamond or any other celebrity desperately trying to stay relevant.
The viewers of the celebrity boxing match can feel that way because they’ve never met a Zimmerman or anyone like him, and if they’re lucky, they never will.
This article originally appeared at Headline News.
On Inside Story for Al Jazeera America, Hiram College Jason Johnson names his top story of 2013 with Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal, Pilar Marrero of La Opinion and former HHS official Tevi Troy.
On MSNBC Weekends with Alex Witt, Hiram College professor names the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin the most memorable moment of 2013. Johnson discussed the year in review with GOP strategist Robert Traynham and Juana Summers of Politico.
Dr. Jason Johnson picks a Discover Magazine article by Robert Epstein entitled “How the Woman/Man Ratio Affects Sex, Facial Hair and Politics” as his Must-Read of the Week.
In the September 2013 issue of The Source Magazine, Politics Editor Jason Johnson discusses the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.