From the start the facts seemed to be of little importance to the prosecution of George Zimmerman, whether at the State’s table in Florida’s 18th Circuit Court or in the court of public opinion.
The forces lined up against Zimmerman worked diligently to bury the background to his confrontation with Travyon Martin in February of 2012 — namely, the rampant crime, frequently committed by black males, that had put his neighborhood on edge. As the “conversation” about the Zimmerman case and about race in America continues, these widely neglected facts should be exhumed.
George Zimmerman moved to the Retreat at Twin Lakes, in Sanford, Fla., in the summer of 2009. Two years into the Great Recession, the gated community of 260 townhomes was in the middle of a demographic transformation. The neighborhood was built to be a family-friendly option for first-time homeowners just a quick drive from downtown Orlando. The initial average price for a 1,400-square-foot townhouse was $250,000. By February of 2012 it had fallen below $100,000.
Large-scale foreclosures in the wake of the housing crash led investors to rent, rather than sell, the spaces, which brought a new, transient type of resident. The Tampa Bay Times noted that, by the end of February 2012, 40 of the homes were empty, and of those occupied, half were being rented.
As the type of resident changed, so did the type of visitor. Eight robberies were reported from the start of 2011 to the time of the Martin shooting, and dozens more burglaries were attempted. Neighbors frequently reported suspicious persons lurking about, possibly casing residences. Many of the suspects were black. In July of 2011 a black teenager stole a bicycle from Zimmerman’s front porch.
According to crime statistics obtained from City-Data.com, the larger community of Sanford had seen a steady uptick in burglaries, from 668 in 2007 to 945 in 2011. Robberies peaked at 199 in 2009, but with 159 in 2011, they remained at rates well above pre-recession years. For Zimmerman’s Twin Lakes community, the statistics were manifest as day-to-day problems — a story chronicled by Reuters in an exhaustive profile of Zimmerman published in April of 2012.