After Trayvon Martin’s death, Is Sanford’s Black Community on the Edge?

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
April 4 2012 9:12 PM

The Other Sanford

While Trayvon Martin’s killer remains free, Sanford’s black community seethes—and tries to make sense of it all.

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“I thought Zimmerman should have been arrested that night,” says Jarrells. “Regardless of the fact of whether or not he thought he was defending someone, he killed someone. Even if they arrested him, and he got out that same night, I think people would have felt better.”

The story makes less sense as they try to put it together. “Even if they arrest you for some little infraction,’ says Franklin, “you’ll be there all night. This is a murder! Somebody got killed. This is a murder. Everybody jumps up and down. Who is he, if he only spends an hour there? What title does he have? Who’s in his family?”

There are two unmistakable differences between the Trayvon conversations you have in other parts of Seminole County, and the conversations you have in the black community. The first is a level of detail. Everyone’s heard of this case, but Greensboro people can go into the timing and meaning of each news break. The 911 calls. The spinning of the 911 calls. The counterattack in the Orlando Sentinel about Martin’s suspension from school after he was caught with an empty marijuana baggie. Gregory Mills, jobless with a long rap sheet, talks about NBC apparently blowing it on an edit of the 911 call, making Zimmerman look fiendishly racist.

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The other difference: Here, every day that Zimmerman isn’t arrested spawns fresh new theories and doubts. You hear rumors. Local hospitals have told employees not to take their vacations this week. Police are ordering riot gear. Mills suggests that there are “too many organizations” in the town, and that Zimmerman had connections that saved him. Some rumors are tied to crimes that actually were investigated, but you hear other stories of mysterious killings that the police never touched. There’s an ad in the latest Sanford Herald with the name of a cold case murder victim and a suggestion to call for a new investigation. “There’s MORE to this story than what was told.”

Greensboro has optimists, but they’re realistic about what other people think. Even if Zimmerman’s arrested, says Franklin, “it took too long.” Not for her, necessarily. Maybe for C.J. Williams, a club promoter, who paces back and forth cursing and ranting about the police’s conduct.

“If I killed you in self-defense, that means you were f---ing with me,” he says. “I’m not going to hide for three days. I’m going to come out and tell you why. A motherf---er who sits home and cries for three days, and won’t come out and talk—he’s guilty.” He points at me, then Holiday. “If I shot somebody who looked like you, or you, shit, I’d be on death row.”

“If he was a white 17-year-old,” says Jarrells, “he wouldn’t have been shot.”

Rashid Abdul Rahman, a retiree, chimes in. “Since we’re in central Florida,” he says, “and there’s so many movements coming through here, it’s going to be OK. If we was in California, they’d be burning this up.”

Burning what up?

“The city!”

They worry about it, and they don’t want to see the anger boil over. But Rahman isn’t bothered about the Stand Your Ground law, which city authorities cited early on as the reason they let Zimmerman go. He is just bothered by how the law is being used.

“It’s the interpretation of the law,” he says, dragging on a cigarette. “Right now it depends on who it’s being applied to. They need to amend that law so there’s justice for everybody.”

Williams eventually finds his calm.

“I’d like to see Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson do this, do their hoopla, when a white kid got shot,” he says. “If Al Sharpton did that, his image would improve, you know? If people thought he’d do this for any person who’s been wronged.”

His point is that this killing and this story are sui generis. There’s scrutiny, the Sanford police are no longer in charge of the investigation, and people outside the city are paying attention to something that would otherwise pass right through the news cycle—black kid dead, looked suspicious.

The next day, a car pulls up to a home on 14th Street and a gunman fires 30 shots into a crowd. It’s a few blocks away from where Williams talked to me about Trayvon Martin.

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