If one percent of the population of Sanford, or 540 people, showed up and protested with me in downtown Sanford, it would change the makeup of the thrust of local government in city hall. Even if one percent of the black population showed up – change would happen.
As it has been in the past, change is left to a small group of committed citizens like me who find it necessary to protest for change.
For me, the Trayvon Martin shooting changed the way I saw the government and law enforcement in my community. It was a watershed moment.
It was after the shooting that I joined with others asking for the resignation or removal of our chief of police. Many whites see the protests to remove the chief of police as political, however that was never the case with me and other blacks in the Sanford community.
In discussing the shooting with other black men and women – young and old – it became clear it was not completely about race either. When the shooting was discussed, it was usually started off with words like, “That could have been me,” or “That could have been my son or daughter.” They were saying they felt a little less safe in their person than they were prior to the night of Feb. 26, when a child (who had recently turned 17) left his house unarmed to buy a bag of candy and a drink and ended up shot to death by a neighborhood watch activist while trying to get back home.
For these blacks, it was not so much a race issue, although race was involved, or a political issue, although politics would come to be involved, but an issue of physical well being. Blacks always knew there were people like George Zimmerman – who shot and killed Trayvon Martin – in their midst who profiled black young men without cause and even committed acts against them. Blacks had however become comfortable, and maybe overly so in expecting law enforcement would hold these kind of people accountable and arrest them when they committed acts against their persons.
It was when black people saw Chief Bill Lee of the Sanford Police Department stand before the nation, and say not only would law enforcement not be charging Zimmerman with a crime, but they would set him free saying he had a right to kill this child, that we became outraged and afraid for our safety at the same time.
The confidence in law enforcement to protect us from zealots like Zimmerman dissolved in that news conference held by Chief Lee on that Monday afternoon. It was at that news conference where you could see the fear and trepidation in the eyes of black people as they felt they were under attack and law enforcement having abandoned them now supported and protected the killer.
It was not for us a question of race but a question of how do we stop this from going any further. This is what caused the outburst of emotion and galvanized blacks to action resulting in the huge protests and marches which followed across the nation. They were afraid for their safety and the safety of their loved ones.
Black came to find out they were behind the learning curve in the “Stand Your Ground Law,” and had to get up to speed politically to address that issue. They also knew the issue of getting Zimmerman arrested had to take center stage.
The business however of not allowing the chief of the Sanford Police Department to return to his post falls to local citizen like me. It was this chief who investigated this shooting and advocated for Zimmerman in that afternoon news conference. We now know based on the special prosecutor appointed by Governor Rick Scott that Zimmerman should have been charged with a crime and not set free. The special prosecutor has charged him with 2nd degree murder. Therefore I protest and will continue to protest until this chief is removed.
And I invite my brothers and sisters, both white and black, to stand with me.