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Why it matters that George Zimmerman keeps getting arrested

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  1. George Zimmerman, the man who was acquitted of the murder of unarmed Florida teen Travyon Martin in 2013, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault Friday night, WFTV Orlando reported.
  2. He was accused of throwing a wine bottle "in the direction of" his girlfriend.
  3. He was released on $5,000 bond Saturday afternoon, and a judge ordered him to avoid contact with his accuser, stay out of the county where she lives, and surrender any weapons.

Reminders of the trial and racialized stereotypes

This arrest was the latest in a long string of encounters with the law for Zimmerman (see full list below). To understand why each of them has inspired so much public interest, you have to remember the way his second-degree murder trial hinged on the question of whether he or 17-year-old Martin was the aggressor in the confrontation that ended Martin's life.

His attorneys convinced a jury that Zimmerman shot and killed Martin because he feared for his life as the African-American teen attacked him.

A major controversy surrounding the case had do do with the way Martin, who had never been in trouble with the law, was portrayed in the courtroom and the media as having criminal tendencies in a way that seemed to exploit racial stereotypes. He was repeatedly characterized by commentators on the case as a "thug." His mother, Sybrina Fulton, said at the time, "They killed my son, and now they're trying to kill his reputation."

So while the allegations against Zimmerman don't tell us anything definitive about what happened the night he killed Martin, many read them as evidence of his capacity for violence — a topic that didn't receive anywhere as much as attention during his trial as did his black victim's potential criminality.

That's  why each of Zimmerman's run-ins with the police is a reminder of the larger issue highlighted by his controversial acquittal and the more recent debates over racially biased policing: that skin color, more than actual conduct, too often determines how people are perceived and whether they're punished.

The latest in a series of brushes with the law

Since Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder in July 2013, he's had a series of run-ins with the law — some more serious than others — but has not been convicted of any crimes.

  • In November 2013, he was arrested on charges of aggravated assault, domestic battery and criminal mischief after his then-girlfriend, Samantha Scheibe, told police he had pointed a gun at her before pushing her out of her home and locking the door. Zimmerman denied the allegations, and Scheibe declined to press charges and signed an affidavit saying, "George Zimmerman never pointed a gun at or toward my face in a threatening manner."
  • In September 2013, days after Zimmerman's wife, Shellie, filed divorce papers, she called police during an argument with him, saying he had smashed an iPad, was threatening her with a gun, and had attacked her father. She ultimately recanted part of her story, saying she never saw a gun, and she and her father declined to press charges.
  • In September 2014, Lake Mary, Florida, police said a man accused Zimmerman of saying "do you know who I am? I'll (expletive) kill you," during a road rage incident. According to the police report, Zimmerman acknowledged that he had "exchanged words" with the other driver, who ultimately declined to press charges.
  • He's been pulled over a total of three times for traffic violations since his acquittal, in one instance telling an officer that he had a concealed weapon permit and a gun in his glove compartment.

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