Trayvon Martin trial: Prayer instead of protests

Pastors leading weekly vigil at Sanford church

James Harper | 7/7/2013, 11:16 a.m.
Driving up to the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center in Sanford, no one would know a case that garnered international ...
One lone picketer talks in the front courtyard where picketers were expected to rally as George Zimmerman's trial in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin gets underway at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center on June 24 in Sanford, Fla. Alex Menendez

Florida Courier

SANFORD, Fla. (NNPA) – Driving up to the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center in Sanford, no one would know a case that garnered international attention was going on.

One lone Seminole County resident held a sign in the fenced-off protest zone on Tuesday as the trial of George Zimmerman was taking place inside the courthouse.

On Feb. 26, 2012, Zimmerman fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in a gated community in Sanford. Zimmerman is claiming self-defense in the shooting.

Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte said in a June 26 interview with the Florida Courier “the fact that they [residents] are not at courthouse [protesting] doesn’t mean anything” about their emotions over the killing of Martin.

Meeting at church

Bonaparte said that on the evening of June 24, more than 200 people attended a town hall meeting at Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal, organized by the Seminole County NAACP Branch. They were praying instead of protesting.

Seminole County NAACP President Turner Clayton Jr. told a local television reporter that the “so-called ‘demonstration area’ that has been designated you will not see us protesting in that particular area cause no one tells us where to go, how long to stay, what to do and what to say.”

Bonaparte, Sanford’s city manager for nearly two years, said he and the city’s new police chief, Cecil Smith, are prepared for whatever may happen during the trial and when the verdict is reached.

Prepared for verdict

Smith attributes the calm from residents to the fact that their demands were met.

“Citizens made requests for several things to take place – George Zimmerman arrested, Police Chief [Bill Lee] fired and an investigation of the police department,” he said, noting that all has taken place.

Smith said he is not worried about an eruption taking place after the verdict similar to what happened after the Rodney King verdict in April 1992. Los Angeles residents rioted and burned down parts of Central Los Angeles when the police officers accused of beating King were found not guilty.

Bonaparte recalled when 30,000 people came to the city last year angry that no charges had been filed against Zimmerman. “There were no incidents then,” he noted.

“People are waiting to see what the verdict will be. The verdict will come – some will think it is justice, others will think it is not. Reality is there will be an emotional reaction to the verdict. We will be prepared,” he said.

‘Division, discontent’

Smith has been on the job for three months. He replaced Lee because of how Lee handled the case and because of alleged bad relations between Blacks and the police department of the city.

The new chief said he is working to figure out who people are and hearing their major concerns.

“There was division, discontent [with the police department],” Smith said he has concluded so far.

Smith also said he is concerned about what the media will report about Sanford’s police department and its residents.

“There has been a lot of things people thought took place that didn’t happen,” he continued, adding that he believes the entire police department has gotten a bad reputation because of what Lee allegedly condoned.