Trayvon Martin’s Death Leaves Town Divided, Struggling With Stigma
Nearly everyone in Sanford agrees on one thing: The death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is a tragedy.
But his death has taken on a whole new meaning here, where media outlets from around the world have descended, to figure out just what happened more than a month ago when neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot and killed Martin.
This once-quiet and quaint town is now the center of a controversy that has put residents in the position of examining just what the racial undertones of the case say about their hometown. And it makes them wonder whether they will forever be known as the a place where an unarmed black kid heading home from the store with Skittles and tea was killed by a Hispanic man claiming self-defense.
For some, the case has become a rallying cry, a chance to air what they believe are years of grievances and cases of injustice between the police, the courts and the black community. For others, it has forced them to defend their town as a place that is not an inherently racist, a place where a young black man cannot be killed without consequence.
Myranette Boynton, 58, has lived in Sanford since 1999. On the grass along the walk that overlooks Lake Monroe, she grew increasingly frustrated as she recounted several events in which she has felt that police had targeted black people, including herself, for no reason.
We have to speak up. We have nothing more to lose.
Cynthia Franklin, Sanford resident
Boynton says she’s not sure she can feel safe in Sanford if there is no arrest in Martin’s case.
“This occasion has happened too many times, and enough is enough,” she said. “Trayvon is not the only one, but Trayvon should be the last one.”
What witnesses say in the Trayvon Martin case
She, like many other African-Americans in this community, references the fact that Sanford Police Chief Lee, who temporarily stepped down in the wake of the Martin controversy, was hired in May to try to change a perceived racial bias.
The hiring was sparked in part by outrage after the white son of a Sanford lieutenant was caught on tape beating a homeless black man in December 2010 but was not arrested until a month later, when news stations began airing the video.
Myranette Boynton, 58, a longtime Sanford resident, thinks the attention to Sanford will make a difference
For Boynton and others, it is a trend, one the new acting police chief, Darren Scott, partially acknowledged during a news conference.
Scott said he planned to make new avenues for residents to air grievances about the police.
“The police department has faced some challenges in the past few years,” he acknowledged, but he didn’t elaborate.
But for others like Michelle Simoneaux, a 45-year-old who has worked in Sanford for 22 years, those incidents have been few and far between.
“I don’t see Sanford as being a prejudiced town by any means,” she said in downtown’s Colonial Room Restaurant, which she manages. “This could happen anywhere, but it doesn’t happen every day. This is the first time in years that anything like this has happened. It makes me sad it’s being turned into an issue of whether the town as a whole is prejudiced towards black people.”
She says Martin’s death is tragic, and she hopes it is fully investigated to ensure that justice prevails, but she believes the issue of race relations within the community has being blown out of proportion.