During what may become one of the most famous days in Sanford’s history, residents saw the temporary removal of Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. on today and the invasion of Fort Mellon Park for rally held in the name of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Miami boy who was shot by a neighborhood watch member Feb. 26.
The Rev. Al Sharpton spearheaded the event, and chose to travel to Sanford even after learning his mother had passed away the evening before.
He said, “My mother would be ashamed of me if I didn’t stand up for this mother and father [of Martin].”
Like many others who spoke to the crowd of thousands, Sharpton demanded the arrest of George Zimmerman, 28, who claimed he shot Martin in self-defense.
“We want to see Zimmerman in court with handcuffs behind his back,” said Sharpton.
Martin’s parents shared the stage with Sharpton and spoke to crowd about “hoodie marches” taking place across the nation in support of their son.
Martin’s father Tracy said, “We won’t rest until Zimmerman is in jail.”
Guests in the crowd donned T-shirts and signs reading, “Justice for Trayvon,” and “America’s most wanted,” alongside Zimmerman’s picture.
Jeremy Johnson who flew down from Atlanta that morning said he came because he felt it was important for the country to demand justice for Martin.
“I came because Trayvon Martin is me. Everybody is a Trayvon Martin. You are a Trayvon Martin,” he said.
Mayor Triplett spoke briefly and was brought back on stage by U.S. Representative Corrine Brown, who spoke of Triplett’s visit to Washington D.C. earlier this week in a ploy to get the U.S. Department of Justice involved.
Tuesday evening Triplett was one of three commissioners to make a vote of no confidence in Lee during a special meeting held by the commission.
Triplett said he questioned the management of the Martin case in the weeks following the incident and noted leaks of information from the police department should not be tolerated by its leader.
In a press conference held only hours before tonight’s rally, Lee announced he would be temporarily removing himself as the head of the department.
“It is my hope that the investigation process will move forward swiftly,” he said.
City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. said Captains Darren Scott and Robert O’Connor will provide leadership for the department in Lee’s absence.
At the rally, guests also learned that Seminole County State Attorney Norm Wolfinger has also agreed to step down from the case. Governor Rick Scott and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi have appointed State Attorney Angela Corey of Jacksonville to take over the case.