Between 2005 and 2012, Zimmerman evidently held it together enough to marry, get a college degree (in criminal justice), hold down a job as an insurance underwriter and become the coordinator for a neighborhood watch committee administered by the local police department. He obviously has the wherewithal to keep himself under control, keep his head down, and stay out of trouble.
In September, Zimmerman’s estranged wife accused him of threatening her and her father with a gun. She dropped the charges because she was on probation (for perjury in connection with the Trayvon Martin case) and feared that if the details of the incident came out she could end up in jail for violating the terms of her probation.
Yesterday Zimmerman was arrested and charged with felony aggravated assault with a weapon and two misdemeanors, stemming from an argument with his new girlfriend.
If there is any time for Zimmerman to practice his skills of being, or appearing to be, a model citizen, it is now. Yet he obviously is losing it. Under the eyes of embarrassed law enforcers, a salivating press and a largely vindictive public, for Zimmerman now to pick up a gun in anger – there is no hint of self-defense in either of these two recent incidents – is completely irrational, counter-intuitive. It sounds as if he is having a nervous breakdown.
It’s not surprising. Killing someone, believing he’d gotten away with it, then being tried for it, and after his acquittal being vilified throughout the world to the point of becoming even more of an icon of getting-away-with-murder than O. J. Simpson, certainly provides enough mental stress to warrant a complete psychological melt-down.
But what if there is more to it than just stress? What if Zimmerman feels guilty? What if, in the depths of his psyche, his acquittal bothers him just as much as it bothers so many other people? Nonsense, you say. But then, what is your reaction to the plot of Crime and Punishment? Nonsense? No. Raskalnikov’s descent into paranoia brought on by guilt, his subconscious wish to be caught, his sense of relief at confession and his hope of redemption through punishment, appear to be quite normal, quite human, quite realistic in the hands of Dostoevsky. Why not ascribe the same psychological bind to Zimmerman? In his case, confession of the deliberate murder of Martin might lead to some sort of personal release, but because he already has been acquitted, not to the punishment by the state which would absolve him. For absolution, he must be imprisoned. Waving a gun around is a way to accomplish this.
I’m not saying that Zimmerman has consciously decided to get himself convicted of a crime, any more than Raskalnikov consciously brought himself to the attention of Detective Porfiry. We’re talking about the subconscious or what was called “the soul” before Freud. Let’s watch what happens next as if through the eyes of Dostoevsky, instead of CNN.
There is no way of knowing for sure how Dostoevskian this situation is. The only thing I think we can say for sure is that if Zimmerman goes so far as to shoot someone, then his lunatic behavior is simply good old off-the-rails American violence and not a weird search for redemption.