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George Zimmerman: Social justice activist with a gun?

George Zimmerman, charged with the murder of teenager Trayvon Martin, stood up for the downtrodden and wanted to become a magistrate judge to help society. How does this square with depictions of him as a racist vigilante?

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George Zimmerman takes the witness stand Friday during a bond hearing in Sanford, Fla. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester says Zimmerman can be released on $150,000 bail as he awaits trial for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/AP

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The depictions of George Zimmerman that have emerged since he killed Trayvon Martin in the Retreat at Twin Lakes neighborhood in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26 have trended mostly around suspicions that he is a racist vigilante, a product of a “shoot first” mentality.

But as more information about Mr. Zimmerman’s past surfaces, a contrasting picture is emerging that  suggests his values may also align closely with those of social justice activists who have sought his arrest and prosecution for murder.

Suggestions by his parents that their son worked to protect society’s have-nots raise a question: Is Zimmerman, a registered Democrat of mixed ethnicity who views himself as a Hispanic, actually a different breed of citizen altogether: a social justice activist with a gun?

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At a bond hearing Friday, Zimmerman’s Hispanic mother, Gladys Zimmerman, disagreed with prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda’s suggestion that a 2005 arrest for assaulting a police officer showed a violent streak in the married 28-year-old, who stands accused by the state of second degree murder

Instead, she said it fit his personality in another way: His zeal to intervene to protect a friend who was being pushed up against a wall by men who turned out to be two plain-clothes law enforcement officers. (A first time offender, Zimmerman escaped a conviction by agreeing to a judge’s request that he take an anger management course.)

According to his mother, Zimmerman, who was once beaten up in high school, cares about the downtrodden and forgotten, going so far as to rally Sanford residents in defense of a homeless man who was beaten, eventually getting a commendation from the city’s mayor for his work on behalf of social justice.

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