Trayvon Martin: Sanford decision to move memorial causes uproar in black community

theGRIO REPORT - The decision to move a memorial to slain Miami teen Trayvon Martin was accompanied by a brief statement emailed to the media Monday...

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This post has been updated.

The city manager of Sanford, Florida, said moving a makeshift memorial to slain Miami teen Trayvon Martin was done at the request of residents near the townhomes where the shooting took place. “the citizens living in the area had become concerned that this incident was defining their neighborhood,” Norton Bonaparte said. The “incident” – the killing of Trayvon Martin on February 26th, led to weeks of protests, and ultimately to the prosecution of the man who shot Martin, and the firing of the city’s police chief.

The decision to move the memorial was accompanied by a brief statement emailed to the media Monday.

“In an effort to protect and preserve the remaining Trayvon Martin curbside memorial items, and after communicating with representatives of Trayvon Martin’s family,” the statement read, “Sanford City Manager, Norton Bonaparte announced that the curbside memorial site items placed outside the entrance of the Retreat at Twin Lakes Subdivision in Sanford have been taken to the Sanford Museum as of 2:30 pm today by city staff. All the items retrieved have been carefully handled and inventoried.”

However, representatives for Martin’s family, and leaders of Sanford’s African-American community, say key parts of that statement are not true.

Natalie Jackson, an attorney for Martin’s parents, said the family’s attorneys were contacted, but that they referred the city official back to community leaders. And Francis Oliver, who runs the black history museum in Sanford’s Goldsboro neighborhood, says the city initially asked to move the memorial there — even though Martin was killed in a mixed-race neighborhood in the city, across from an elementary school.

According to Oliver, the Retreat at Twin Lakes homeowner’s association had been pushing to have the makeshift memorial, comprised of a cross surrounded by cards, stuffed animals and flowers, moved almost from the moment she and other members of Sanford’s black community began to erect it. “They have been calling the city, they have been calling lawyers and different people,” Oliver told TheGrio.

Bonaparte said the removal of the memorial was not at the request of the homeowner’s association specifically, and he said the decision was made after “there were several email and phone call communications over a month’s time between Mr. Benjamin Crump,” the Martin family’s attorney, “and a city staff person explaining what the city was planning on doing with the items.”

Reached by telephone, Kent Taylor, who works for the management company representing the Retreat at Twin Lakes homeowner’s association, declined to comment.

Oliver said she was contacted about three weeks ago by a city official, Andrew Thomas, who asked if the group of black civic leaders and ministers called the Concerned Citizens of Sanford, would mind moving the memorial to the Goldsboro museum, located on 13th Street, the dividing line between Sanford proper, and its oldest black neighborhood. “I said [Trayvon Martin] didn’t die on 13th Street. He didn’t die in the black community.”

Oliver said she spoke with Sanford’s lone black commissioner, Velma Williams, who also agreed the memorial should stay where it was.

According to an attorney for the Martin family, Thomas later contacted Ben Crump, the lead attorney representing Martin’s parents, who told Thomas that since the Martin family doesn’t live in Sanford, they were leaving all decisions about the memorial to the city’s black community. Crump suggested that Thomas contact Ms. Oliver. She says that never happened, and that neither the community leaders, nor the Martin family, gave the consent described in the city release.