George Zimmerman and the Price of Infamy

No matter what he does with the rest of his life, he will forever be remembered for one terrible act.

George Zimmerman at the closing arguments for his trial on July 12, 2013 (pool/Getty Images)
George Zimmerman at the closing arguments for his trial on July 12, 2013 (pool/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Last week George Zimmerman — found innocent of murder, but still the killer of teen Trayvon Martin — was pulled over by a police officer in Forney, Texas, east of Dallas.

Nothing happened.

In fact, the only detail of note was that Zimmerman was packing heat in the glove compartment (which he disclosed to the officer) and was going “nowhere in particular.”

The officer’s dashboard camera captured the nonincident, and the officer himself got away with snapping a cellphone picture of Zimmerman. Perhaps the officer couldn’t help himself, since George Zimmerman is “famous.” Not the kind of famous where you ask to be in the cellphone picture with him, but the infamous kind, where you sneak a picture that you can show your disbelieving friends later in a ghoulish conversation about celebrity, death and the continued life of George Zimmerman.

While, for many folks, the story of dead Florida teen Trayvon Martin and the man who killed him was one that people chose sides over and were passionate about, for many others it was another narrative played out in the press like reality TV. Even the court case was televised. So there was a spectacle about all of it. A story. And stories have endings.

A Hollywood ending would have meant that Zimmerman went to prison, never to be thought of again. But there was no Hollywood ending. He was found not guilty, and so now Zimmerman is famous — or, rather, infamous. But no one has any idea what to do with him or his infamy.

Regular, nonmurderous fame is typically good currency if you know what to do with it. Like Republican Tom DeLay going from smiling mugshot crook to Dancing With the Stars. Or this Sydney Leathers person who’s turned some “sexts” between herself and New York City mayoral wannabe Anthony Weiner into a semilucrative porn-adjacent career. Maybe she’ll go on Dancing With the Stars next.

That show is kind of a go-to place for fame that is less of the Angelina Jolie, Denzel Washington or Will Smith variety and more of the Bristol Palin quality. You know, the sort of fame where you’re good enough to get a reality show, but not quite good enough to keep one. Not everyone can be the Kardashians or Shaunie O’Neal, after all.

But what do you do with infamy, that cousin of fame that has no real currency to cash in? When you are renowned, not by happy accident or from a Shakespearean downfall after reaching near-Caesar heights, but because you’re a killer? Not a convicted murderer, but someone who killed someone, and everyone knows who you are and what you did, and all hold a judgment?

Zimmerman’s lawyer quite famously himself said that Zimmerman would have to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder. Zimmerman’s brother, Robert, claims that the family has been inundated with threats, mostly online, and is living in a form of isolation out of fear:

“No one has really asked us to get into the psychological aspect of this,” Zimmerman reportedly said. “You don’t know if someone stops you in public and says, ‘excuse me sir,’ you don’t know if you dropped your wallet or if someone recognizes you and wants to kill you.”