Anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death: A time of waiting
ABOVE PHOTO: George Zimmerman, center, arrives Seminole circuit court, in Sanford, Fla., Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. Zimmerman’s attorneys presented a motion Tuesday asking Judge Debra Nelson to push the trial from mid-June back to November, but she denied the defense request to delay the trial. Zimmerman is accused of shooting Florida teenager Trayvon Martin last year. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder charges.
(AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank, Pool)
By Rene Stutzman
SANFORD — Tuesday is the anniversary of one of the darkest days in recent Sanford history: the day Trayvon Martin was killed.
Now, a year after the 17-year-old was shot and killed by George Zimmerman on a rainy February night, it is a time for waiting.
Trayvon’s mother and father are waiting to see if their son’s killer will be convicted and punished.
Zimmerman is living in hiding, waiting for what his lawyers predict will be his exoneration.
Sanford residents are waiting to see if the Police Department, which faced withering criticism and the ouster of its chief, will stabilize under a new leader and win the confidence of the black community.
And the nation is waiting, too.
“It’s difficult because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who, weeks after Trayvon’s death, led a rally that drew an estimated 8,000 people to downtown Sanford.
What happened then — rallies in major cities across the country that drew throngs of people; saturation news coverage; allegations of racism and a police cover-up; speeches on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives — is not happening now.
There are no speeches or marches planned in Sanford on Tuesday.
That’s because Trayvon’s parents did not want that, according to Turner Clayton Jr., president of the Seminole County branch of the NAACP.
But there will be a candlelight vigil as an expected 150 people or more gather at Fort Mellon Park at 7:15 p.m., near the time Trayvon was killed, said organizer Frances Coleman Oliver.
Trayvon’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, was in New York City for a “million hoodies” candlelight vigil in Union Square. People will gather for a moment of silence to honor Trayvon and “all victims of senseless gun violence,” according to the family’s law firm.
Students at the University of Central Florida also plan a candlelight vigil at 5 p.m. at the school’sreflecting pond.
Trayvon’s parents organized celebrations around what would have been their son’s 18th birthday Feb. 5. An anti-violence rally in Sanford, organized by the NAACP and Sanford Police Department, drew 80 people.
One a few days later in Miami-Dade that featured actor-comedian Jamie Foxx drew more than 300.
There will be another noteworthy gathering Tuesday in Sanford: A group of community leaders working to improve community-police relations will sit down with representatives of the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service team to go over what to expect from Zimmerman’s “stand your ground” hearing tentatively set for April 22.
That’s when Zimmerman is expected to ask for immunity from prosecution and tell Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson that he shot Trayvon once in the heart because the high-school junior had broken his nose, pinned him to the ground, and Zimmerman believed that he was about to die.
“What happened was very, very tragic,” said City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. “It could have happened anywhere. It just happened to happen in our community.”
The city is now working to fix the long-standing distrust by the black community of the Police Department:
- On Feb. 14, Sanford hired a new police chief: Cecil Smith, a 25-year veteran from Elgin, Ill., who is black.
- It recently created a new police unit designed to aggressively go after gun violence, gangs and drugs, things that have disproportionately harmed Sanford’s black community.
- It created a blue-ribbon panel, co-chaired by a retired criminal judge who’s white and a pastor who’s black, that is working to improve police and community relations.
Trayvon’s shooting has shown “that racism is alive and well in the city of Sanford,” said Clayton, the local NAACP president. “Before it was covert.
“We want to make sure justice will prevail,” he said. “So we’re watching every avenue of the judicial system to make sure that will take place.”
The Rev. Valerie J. Houston is pastor at Allen Chapel AME Church in Sanford, a congregation that during the protests last March turned over its sanctuary to the national NAACP, which took testimony and cataloged a litany of complaints by black residents against local police.
From outward appearances, she said, Sanford has gone back to life as usual.
But she co-chairs that blue-ribbon panel on police-community relations and “monthly and weekly, there are things going on to make Sanford a more beloved community, as Dr. Martin Luther King said.”
She’ll be at that Department of Justice meeting Tuesday, she said, in part because local pastors are part of an ongoing effort “so we can try to make sure there are no riots” if Zimmerman is cleared following a “stand your ground” hearing or acquitted at trial.
Her plan, she said, is to keep going to meetings, keep building relationships and keep praying.
“We’re not ready to heal until we get a sense of satisfaction in our souls,” she said.
Sharpton, too, says he welcomes the chance to wait for justice.
“It’s comforting to know when I came into Florida, when I landed ... in Sanford, there was no trial to wait for,” he said. “We have gotten a family a day in court.”
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