SANFORD, Fla. — Under the hot Florida sun the morning after George Zimmerman was found not guilty, Kathy McGill stood next to a brick monument adorned with the names of 10 local young people who had been shot or stabbed to death. The name at the top of the monument, located in the center of Sanford’s historic black neighborhood of Goldsboro, was Trayvon Martin. Next to Martin’s name was the date of his death: February 26, 2012.
McGill never knew Martin, a Miami boy who was visiting his father when he was shot by Zimmerman, but she did know two of the other people listed on the monument — Travares McGill and Corey Donaldson. Since the community put the plaque of names up nearly a year ago, at least two other Sanford kids have been killed.
News of last night’s verdict was greeted with disappointment and some anger in this neighborhood, as residents said they believed police do not adequately respond to violence in their part of town and that justice is not meted out equally. A jury of six women affirmed Zimmerman’s argument that he feared for his life when he shot the unarmed, 17-year-old Martin in a nearby gated neighborhood.
“It makes me feel like if I’m in need of justice, I won’t win,” McGill said of the verdict. “I thought it would be better.” A young man passing by overheard McGill and asked, “How’s it self defense if it don’t apply to me?”
Previous murders weigh heavily on the minds of residents, though those killings received far less media attention than the Martin case. Donaldson, a talented musician at his local church, was gunned down in a shooting rampage at his friend’s home in 2011. Travares McGill, then 16 and McGill’s nephew, was shot in 2005 by a security guard who said McGill was trying to run him over in a parking lot .
“It never seems like they try to solve the murders in the urban areas,” McGill said. “When Trayvon Martin was gunned down, they thought he was just anyone. But he wasn’t.”
Some said they hoped the small central Florida town of 50,000 residents will change for the better because of the Martin case, which sparked a discussion on race and the justice system, as well as self- defense laws. Despite the predictions of a handful of pundits, the verdict was received with calm and no violence in the area.
Lottie Edge, whose children were friends with Dominique Stafford, a 17-year-old stabbing victim whose name is among those on the monument, said she thinks justice has been served.
“I’m a little disappointed, but not really surprised,” Edge said of the verdict. “The parents just wanted justice for their son. They wanted him to have his day in court and that’s what happened.”
In the weeks after Martin's death, thousands of people marched in the city to demand Zimmerman be arrested and charged, bolstered by the NAACP and other civil rights groups and leaders. But Saturday's not guilty verdict has turned up only a handful of small protests, many organized by outside groups.
The communist group Revcom organized a small protest at Fort Mellon Park on Sunday evening that drew about 30 people. A Fort Myers woman, Irene Smith, said in a megaphone that she was disappointed the protest was not larger. "It's a lot of people in Sanford but look how few is here," she said. "I see so many people sitting on their porches when they should have been headed here." One spectator murmured in agreement. "Call it out!" he said.
Some Sanford leaders are not ready to give up the fight, however. Valarie Houston, pastor of Allen Chapel Church just down the road from the monument, gave a fiery sermon dedicated to Martin and his family Sunday morning. Houston helped lead the protests in the area that prompted the police to arrest and charge Zimmerman in Martin’s death, 44 days after the shooting.
The wood-paneled, modest chapel was only about half full with congregants, many of them wearing matching red T-shirts. Houston said a prayer thanking the Lord for sending Trayvon Martin “as a sacrifice for all of us.” She said his death revealed “injustices that lie in Sanford” and that he gave “his life to protect the youth who will come after him.”
The congregants gave a standing ovation to a young church member who recited a speech she wrote about why Martin is innocent.
Kim Brown, a Sunday school teacher at Allen Chapel, said her middle school-aged students all wanted to talk about the verdict during their morning Bible session. Two of the children had been at the Seminole County Courthouse with their parents when the decision was announced late Saturday night.
“All of them had the same opinion,” Brown said of her students. “They felt it was unfair and unjust.”
“As children it’s hard for them to totally comprehend, it’s overwhelming,” Brown said, adding that she told them it’s time to move on and come together as a country.
Some of the children said they felt scared by the verdict, and worried that they had to be extra careful when walking around outside. “They said, 'we do know we have to be careful.' I wish it wouldn’t have to happen that way but that’s how they feel,” Brown said.
The Sunday school teacher reassured her students. “Let’s just take it as it is. This is just how it is,” she told them.