ABOVE PHOTO: Trayvon Martin
In order to protect it’s tourist industry, Central Florida officials have a history of sweeping deaths under the rug
By Wendell P. Simpson
Central Florida, an area inextricably linked in the minds of most to good times, beaches, fun-in-the-sun and grandiose theme parks–the world’s playground–is also a place where racial issues have long collided with its sparkling, pristine image. When George Zimmerman, the adopted Hispanic son of a retired circuit court judge, recently walked on the charge of murder against a local teen, Trayvon Martin, a controversy ensued that breathed new life into the dormant rancor, acrimony and injustice that had characterized the area’s sordid racial past.
On the night of February 26, 2012, the fatal shooting of Martin by Zimmerman took place in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. Martin was a 17-year-old African American high school student who was visiting his father and his father’s new wife in the gated community. Twenty-eight year old Zimmerman was a resident and the neighborhood watch coordinator for the area. Sometime in the early evening, Zimmerman and Martin were involved in a scuffle. Police arrived soon after neighbors reported gunshots. Zimmerman was initially taken into custody by Sanford police, treated for minor head lacerations, and then questioned. After five hours, Zimmerman was released for lack of evidence and lack of legal grounds for arrest in accordance with the State’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws.
Six weeks later, amid growing controversy, contradictory media coverage and a nationwide furor over his release, Zimmerman was arrested and charged with murder. On June 10, 2013, Zimmerman’s trial commenced. On July 13, 2013, a Sanford jury acquitted him of murder and manslaughter charges.
Protests bemoaning the verdict took place in several cities across the nation, most notably in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. Some protests erupted into violence and looting; hundreds of arrests were made and protestors held.
The Martin-Zimmerman case was hardly the first time that Central Florida found itself thrust into the murky waters of racial controversy and seeming injustice. Three cases from Central Florida’s harrowing racial past throw light on this history of racial animus:
July Perry: In 1920, Perry and another African American man, Mose Norman, tried to vote in the November national elections. They were stopped by white residents of Ocoee, a town directly to the west or present day Orlando. A race riot ensued in which up to 60 African Americans–including Norman–were killed. Perry was locked up in the county jail. The next day, a mob absconded with Perry, and he was lynched. The homes and businesses of local African Americans were burned to the ground. Local Blacks did not venture into Western Orange County until the 1980s.
Rosewood: The story of the massacre of Black residents in the small town just north of Sanford, Florida was immortalized in John Singleton’s 1997 movie.
Almaz Andarge: A young woman of Ethiopian descent, Ms. Andarge was murdered in one of Orlando’s premier hotels. The student was working part-time as a maid at an International Drive hotel when her body was found hanging form the ceiling of a hotel room. The official verdict by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was that Ms. Andarge’s death was a suicide; however, good detective work by her brother, Haile Andarge, revealed that Ms. Andarge was murdered by a hotel employee who accidentally stumbled upon the maid while robbing one of the hotel rooms.