Sanford Braces for Verdict in Zimmerman Trial
July 12th, 2013 | WMFE- The jury in George Zimmerman's second degree murder trial could begin deliberations this afternoon, and Sanford authorities are bracing for the community's response to the verdict. Throughout the trial police have been working with church leaders to keep the city calm.
[Image: Allen Chapel AME Church, Goldsboro]
From day one of the trial, pastors from around Sanford have taken turns to sit in the courtroom.
Sanford Pastors Connecting was formed under the guidance of the US Department of Justice Community Relations Service to help calm tension after the shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Reverend Charlie Holt from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Lake Mary, says they’re a vital link between law enforcement and the community.
“We can model racial reconciliation as clergy, we can model treating people with kindness and love," says Holt.
"Those are things that law enforcement can’t accomplish.”
Holt says some members of his congregation live in the neighborhood where Martin was shot, and there are strong opinions about the case. But he says if there’s any unrest after the trial, it’s more likely to come from outside Sanford.
But Sanford police chief Cecil Smith downplays fears of disorder.
“There’s no credible threat that’s out there that’s saying that busloads of people could come here," says Smith.
"Could they? Yes. Are they talking about that? No,” he says.
Smith says he plans to have extra police on the streets. The Seminole County Sheriff's office has made plans in case of disorder, and other law enforcement agencies have also offered resources, but Smith hopes they won’t be needed.
Pastor Valerie Houston is also part of Sanford Pastors Connecting.
Houston's Allen Chapel AME Church in the historic African American neighborhood of Goldsboro was the scene of large meetings last year as residents called for George Zimmerman's arrest.
Houston says getting the case to trial was a big deal for those residents.
“So we’re just waiting for a verdict," says Houston.
"But I don’t think at the day of the verdict then all of a sudden you’re going to have everything break loose if it’s not favorable the way the community thinks it should go,” she adds.
Pastor Houston says protests are a possibility, but after last year’s large and peaceful demonstrations, she’s not concerned.