The slaying of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, black 17-year-old, by a neighborhood watch volunteer has prompted a federal investigation and, on Thursday, the temporary ouster of the city’s police chief.
To many black residents of Sanford, the escalating national anger over how local police have handled the case reflects years of tension and frustration over their treatment by authorities.
Murray Jess, for one, can’t shake the memory of an evening two years ago, as he drove through Sanford at dusk, heading home after attending an art show with his fiance and his 14-year-old nephew.
A police cruiser began following Jess’ silver-gray, 1996 Mercedes. Two unmarked police cars blocked the road in front of him, forcing Jess into a Pizza Hut parking lot. An officer got out of a van and pointed a video camera at the bewildered Jess as another officer, his hand on his gun, approached the car.
Jess asked the officer why he had been stopped. “He said, ‘We’ve had a lot of reports of these kinds of cars being stolen lately,'” said Jess, a black Sanford resident and business owner whose voice still shakes with rage.
On Thursday, Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. bowed to pressure and stepped down “temporarily,” but neither he nor City Manager Norton N. Bonaparte Jr. explained when or whether he might return to the job. And Lee’s move did not appear to quell the anger over Martin’s deathor over the police department’s decision not to arrest George Zimmerman, the man who said he shot the teen.
“Since the chief has stepped down, it’s a temporary relief, but we need a permanent relief,” Trayvon’s stricken-looking mother, Sybrina Fulton, said Thursday at a news conference in downtown Sanford, where hundreds gathered in anticipation of a rally later to be led by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
“I still say we need an arrest,” Fulton said as shouts of “We want an arrest!” floated from the crowd.
“We want an arrest, we want a conviction, and we want him sentenced for the murder of our son,” said Martin’s father, Tracy Martin.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, has said he fired in self-defense; Trayvon’s family says Zimmerman targeted the teen because of his skin color, and they say the police department has given Zimmerman a pass because he is not black.