In attempting to understand Zimmerman’s actions, much attention has been called to the fact that Martin was black, and to the frequency with which Zimmerman, who is half-white and half-Hispanic, called police in the years leading up to the shooting. Twin Lakes is almost 50 percent white, with Hispanic and African-American populations of about 20 percent each.
Conversations with several residents, however, suggest that Zimmerman’s calls reflect a wider feeling of concern and distrust in the community. For years, Twin Lakes residents had been on edge—demonstrated by their decision last September to start a neighborhood-watch organization, which was initiated by Zimmerman himself. The burglary of Olivia Bertalan’s home was just one of at least eight reported over the previous 14 months—several of which, neighbors said, involved young black men. On Feb. 26, the odds were stacked against Martin: he was a young black man in a neighborhood that was feeling besieged by crime and blaming it—fairly or not—on people who looked like him.
Three weeks before Martin’s death another Twin Lakes resident arrived home to discover a kitchen window open and a laptop and gold necklaces missing. Two witnesses said they saw a young black man standing nearby, but they did not see the man break into the home, according to a police report. One witness said he believed it was the same man who had stolen his bike. The next day officers responding to a call confronted three black men and one white man on bikes near the neighborhood. The same witnesses identified one of the men as the same man they saw near the burglarized home. The officers found the laptop in the man's backpack.