Many in the legal community, along with community leaders, have condemned Zimmerman for the racially biased comments he made last week regarding the 21-year-old Black man and his shooting death by deputies.
Zimmerman’s comments, which were captured on video and broadcast online, have prompted the Superior Court to remove his authority to perform any functions of that court, prosecutors to seek his removal from all of their criminal cases and calls from several parties for his resignation. He announced Tuesday he would temporarily step away from the bench.
Zimmerman’s son was on scene in the Oct. 29 shooting of Peterson as a member of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office but did not fire his weapon.
In an interview with The Columbian after the press conference, Peterson Sr. said he laughed when he heard the judge’s comments.
The father said the last thing he was thinking about the day after his son was killed was money, referring to a comment Zimmerman made about Peterson Sr. having “dollar signs in his eyes.”
Peterson Jr.’s mother, Tammi Bell, said she’d rather have her son back over any amount of money.
“It’s disturbing an official would make comments about a young man who was murdered,” Peterson Sr. said. He added, however, that racially biased views are shared on a daily basis, “but you hate to hear it from someone in a high position.”
“It’s a cultural thing; it’s not just him. He’s not just one bad apple; he’s just been exposed,” Peterson Sr. said.
He said he has concerns about the judge’s impartiality and fairness to defendants of color who have come before him.
Bell said it seemed like Zimmerman was “talking for real.”
“We were hearing his true words. I don’t see any impartiality in there,” she said, likening the judge’s comments to social media gossip. “That’s not how you act as a judge.”
Peterson Jr.’s partner, Olivia Selto, said she didn’t present a false narrative about the shooting; she simply gave her statement, and Zimmerman perceived it the way he wanted to.
She added that Peterson was not racist against white people, as the judge had remarked.
Peterson Sr. said he’s been encouraged by those who have condemned Zimmerman’s comments and the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for taking action to disqualify the judge from its criminal cases.
In its statement, NW Justice Project said judges must be held to a high standard, as “they are empowered to put people in cages, impose large fines and remove people from their homes.”
The legal aid program said it recognizes that systemic racism continues to pervade all institutions – resulting in violence, poverty and early death for people of color.
It noted that many of its clients of color have experienced racism by law enforcement and the courts.
“We cannot allow Judge Zimmerman’s actions to go unaddressed. Communities of color in Clark County are entitled to empathetic and impartial judges and a court system built on equity and fairness. Judges who abuse their power and express hateful, discriminatory attitudes toward people in our community should not remain in office. Judge Zimmerman must be removed,” the statement concludes.