Trayvon's shooter sues NBC over edits

George Zimmerman claims the network aired edited calls to frame him as a "racist"

By Natasha Lennard

Published December 7, 2012 6:40PM (EST)

Trayvon Martin's shooter, George Zimmerman, is suing NBC for defamation over the broadcasting of an edited phone call between Zimmerman and a police dispatcher on the night of Martin's death.

The suit alleges that NBC's edits portrayed Zimmerman as "a racist and predatory villain." Zimmerman, 28, is charged with second-degree murder for shooting dead 17-year-old Martin last February. Martin's death sparked a nationwide outcry as the shooter was not charged until April. Commentators saw structural racism underpinning the police's decision to take for granted Zimmerman's claim of self-defense and invocation of Florida's "stand-your-ground" law. However, Zimmerman and his attorneys charge that NBC engaged in "yellow journalism" in attempting to assert a racist motivation through specific edits made to a 911 call he placed on Feb. 26 to authorities just before the shooting occurred.

The evidence against the network is damning. The first altered call that NBC aired included these statements, in which Zimmerman described Martin:

"Zimmerman: There is a real suspicious guy. Ah, this guy looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something. He looks black."
Dispatcher: Are you following him?
Zimmerman: Yeah.
Dispatcher: Ok we don't need you to do that."

On a different occasion, NBC changed Zimmerman's remarks to this:

"Zimmerman: This guy looks like he's up to no good or on drugs or something. He's got his hand in his waistband. And he's a black male.
Dispatcher: Are you following him?
Zimmerman: Yeah.
Dispatcher: Okay, we don't need you to do that."

But the lawsuit says the conversation Zimmerman had with the dispatcher actually went like this:

"Zimmerman: This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about.
Dispatcher: OK and this guy - is he white, black or Hispanic?
Zimmerman: He looks black."

The suit alleges that about a minute of audio was deleted, but the above example alone is striking --  NBC's decision to remove the dispatcher's question about race certainly shifts the character of Zimmerman's remarks.

In April, NBC put out a statement apologizing for the "error" in the edits and three employees involved in the reporting were subsequently fired. But Zimmerman is seeking "damages in excess of the jurisdictional limit" in Seminole County Circuit Court in Florida.

To be sure, with or without NBC's highly problematic editing, the Trayvon Martin shooting is intractably about race -- as angry protests around the country following the tragedy illustrated. From assumptions made about a young, black teen in a hoodie looking "up to no good," to the police's immediate release of the shooter, to the "stand your ground" law Zimmerman invoked as a defense, which has been found to disproportionately justify the killing of black people, the shooting of an unarmed, black teen does not need a "predatory, racist villain" to be mired in racism.


Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Defamation Florida George Zimmerman Nbc Racism Stand-your-ground Trayvon Martin