SANFORD – Growing unrest, in response to the perceived lack of action by Florida officials regarding the death of Trayvon Martin, is leading people at state and national levels to raise vocal cries for justice. Martin, 17, was fatally shot on February 26 by George Zimmerman, 28, who claims to have acted in self-defense, even though the teen was unarmed.
After the Sanford, Fla. incident Zimmerman was not charged by local police, and critics say they also failed to execute crime scene protocols that may have rendered valuable evidence. Zimmerman is seen by many as having received preferential treatment for committing a crime that would have landed an African-American shooter in jail.
The outrage over what some see as racially-motivated bias has sparked numerous demonstrations in Sanford over the past three weeks, in addition to online petitions that have garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures from those demanding that Zimmerman be charged.
WATCH ‘TODAY SHOW’ COVERAGE OF THE CALLS FOR BILL LEE TO STEP DOWN:
Activism on behalf of Trayvon is still escalating.
On Wednesday in Sanford, a noon meeting was convened by the NAACP and led by its president, Ben Jealous, to give a platform to angry area residents. They spoke of Trayvon’s killing as part of a pattern of unconscionable acts that have been committed by Sanford police for years. Mary Scott, the mother of a 23-year-old who was killed by Sanford police officers two years ago told the crowd, “I have no confidence in this department.”
At a similar event held on Tuesday night at the same church, Jealous called for the firing of Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, Jr.
In a special meeting also held on Wednesday, the Sanford City Commission voted 3-2 to give the chief a vote of “no confidence” — a sign he has been deserted by many of the town’s highest ranking officials.
These critiques from Jealous and Sanford’s commissioners — while damning — are legally meaningless, because only the city manager of Sanford is empowered to fire Lee. Not even Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett can do so.
City Manager Norton Bonaparte, Jr., who is African-American, has told the press he will not make a decision about Lee’s standing until law enforcement agencies outside of Sanford weigh in on the alleged missteps of local police. Bonaparte released a statement yesterday, which, while dated, at over a month after the incident, insists that he represents the city’s best responses to the public’s questions.
Numerous accounts indicating that Lee’s officers failed to engage in proper procedures have unleashed snowballing pressure on his department, originating with Martin’s family and expanding to include input from celebrities and members of Congress. Now the FBI, Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), and U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) are involved in the evaluation. In addition, a Seminole County grand jury will meet on April 10 to consider whether Zimmerman should be charged.
But for some, this alphabet soup of government acronyms is still not enough. Also on Wednesday, three African-American Florida state senators asked that a special prosecutor be appointed in addition to remove the taint of bias still sensed by their constituents.
At a press conference, Sen. Gary Siplin, Sen. Chris Smith, and Sen. Oscar Braynon (who represents Trayvon’s home district) discussed a letter that had been submitted to Gov. Scott detailing this entreaty. Siplin told reporters: “I believe that the appointment of a special prosecutor will remove the perception of bias or impropriety by the citizens of Sanford, and will give them assurances that this investigation will be conducted in a manner that seeks truth and justice with fairness.”
Meanwhile, in New York City, the Million Hoodie March took place later on the same day, in solidarity with Trayvon Martin and his family. The demonstration, which started at Union Square in downtown Manhattan, ended as it reached the United Nations headquarters. The marchers chanted for justice.
“We’re out here today to ensure that justice is served, and that no other parent has to go through this again,” Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, told the assemblage. Sabrina Fulton, the victim’s mother who was also in attendance, thanked the throng for the comfort they brought her grieving heart.
In Miami, two hundred paraded — some wearing hoodies and carrying Skittles — for several blocks to a park to petition for Zimmerman’s arrest.
Concurrently, a rally at the Florida Regional Services Center in Orlando provided a stage for civil rights activists, residents, and more to express frustration with a legal system that seems blind to crime, instead of implementing justice in an impartial manner.
As unrest blooms to ever-larger proportions, African-Americans in the region hope people remain engaged politically in the ensuing months, when the ire sparked by Martin’s death dies down.
“It comes down to voting, and being more involved at the community level,” Hannibal Duncan, an area resident who spoke at the NAACP meeting Wednesday, related to central Florida station News 13. Only time will tell whether blacks and other allies can use this momentum with political savvy to improve social conditions for all.
This froth of activity engaged around the memory of Treyvon Martin is building up to a rally to be held by Rev. Al Sharpton on Thursday at 7pm at a church in Sanford, to exert further pressure on Florida and federal officials to prosecute Zimmerman immediately.
Al Sharpton is the host of Politics Nation with Al Sharpton on MSNBC, a subset of NBC News. TheGrio is part of NBC News, which is owned by NBC Universal.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb