Florida on guard for post-Zimmerman unrest


Published: Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 5:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 5:16 p.m.

Police and city leaders across Florida say they have taken precautionary steps for the possibility of mass protests or even civil unrest if George Zimmerman is acquitted in the killing of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, particularly in African-American neighborhoods, where passions run strongest over the case.

Facts

About the local rally

What: A rally to pray for the family of the late Trayvon Martin and to address concerns from the community.
When: 6 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Bartley Temple United Methodist Church, 1936 NE 8th Ave.
Information: Call 665-4066.

For months, officials in Sanford and South Florida have been working with pastors, youth coaches, community activists and summer camp counselors to stress a non-violent approach if Zimmerman walks free.

At the same time, police say they have quietly been making plans for dealing with any potential emotional flare-ups that could quickly turn into storefront-smashing, car-burning riots.

In Gainesville, a rally will be held Saturday to pray for Trayvon Martin's family and to urge Gainesville and Alachua County residents to remain peaceful in the wake of the trial's outcome.

Organized by the Rev. Milford Griner, president and founder of the Rosa Parks Quiet Courage Committee, the Gainesville rally will be held at 6 p.m. at Bartley Temple United Methodist Church, 1936 NE 8th Ave.

Griner said the rally will be held to pray for Trayvon Martin's family, to pray for strength for Trayvon's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, and to pray for peace in Gainesville and Alachua County if Zimmerman is acquitted.

Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, is charged with second-degree murder in the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting death of 17-year-old Martin, who is black, in Sanford.

"We are going to start with prayer and then we are going to get input and feedback from the different organizations that will be represented, and then we will get feedback from the audience," said Griner, adding that the rally will last approximately one hour.

Meantime, Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones said he's counting on a constructive reaction locally regardless of the trial's outcome in Sanford.

"We as a community can stand fast in our resolve to overcome and learn from these tragic events," Jones said of the shooting death of Martin.

"Regardless of the verdict … I am confident that this community will choose to voice their concerns through our churches, media, town hall meetings, and with elected and non-elected community leaders," Jones said in a Speaking Out column that appears on today's Sun editorial page.

Griner, who organized a Gainesville march and rally for Martin last year and a tribute earlier this year to recognize the one-year anniversary of Martin's death, said Saturday's rally in northeast Gainesville is important to him because Martin's death affected him emotionally.

"This is a young man who I feel didn't have to die," said Griner, senior pastor of Pleasant Plain United Methodist Church in Jonesville. "So for me, as a Gainesville resident and as a father and grandfather, I feel it is important for all of us who were affected in different ways to come together."

Darry Lloyd, president of the African American Accountability Alliance of Alachua County, said he will participate because it involves an important issue. He said too many serious issues get "lost in conversations," and it is important to involve as many people as possible in discussions about issues that affect the black community locally, statewide and nationally.

"We need folks to be involved on all levels," Lloyd said. Using a track-and-field analogy, Lloyd said there "a lot of sprinters and not enough long-distance runners" fighting for civil rights today.

"We need distance runners in the new civil rights movement," Lloyd said.

As for possible protests statewide in the wake of a verdict, the Rev. Walter T. Richardson, longtime pastor and chairman of Miami-Dade County's Community Relations Board, which has been holding town hall-style meetings about the case, said, "It's all right to be vocal, but we don't want to be violent. We've already lost one soul and we don't want to lose any more."

Martin is from the suburb of Miami Gardens. He was in Sanford visiting his father and father's fiancee when Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, fatally shot him during a physical confrontation in a gated community in February 2012.

Martin's supporters portrayed the shooting as racially motivated, while Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, claimed self-defense. Charged with second-degree murder, Zimmerman pleaded not guilty at the trial unfolding in a Sanford courthouse.

After police initially refused to arrest Zimmerman, there were many large but peaceful protests in both Sanford and the Miami area — as well as in New York and other cities. Those demonstrations included a mass walkout at nearly three dozen South Florida high schools.

Many in Sanford say they doubt the trial's outcome would spark local residents to take to the streets.

"The main focus was to get Zimmerman arrested and have him tried before a jury of his peers in a court of law," said Clayton Turner Jr., president of the Seminole County branch of the NAACP. "That was the main issue, not how we felt about whether he's innocent or guilty."

Correspondent Cleveland Tinker and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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