Tensions Rising In Fla. Over Teen's Shooting

The community of Sanford, Fla., met Tuesday at a town hall meeting to discuss a controversial shooting. Trayvon Martin, 17, was killed last month by a neighborhood watch volunteer. The man has not been charged and says he shot the black teen in self-defense. Charges of racial bias have followed, and the episode has sparked a national outcry.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

It is hard to understate the intensity of conversations sparked across this country by a shooting case in Florida. A Neighborhood Watch volunteer shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager and said he was acting in self-defense.

INSKEEP: Attention to this case has grown for weeks, prompting calls for the shooter to be arrested and for the local police chief to resign. It has also prompted edgy discussions of the peril that young black men feel they face on American streets.

GREENE: One intense conversation took place at a black church in Sanford, Florida, and NPR's Kathy Lohr was there.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: The facts of the case are well known now. A neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, confronted 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on a rainy night in February. Trayvon was walking home form a convenience store. Zimmerman, who is Latino, said he considered the teen suspicious. He ultimately shot Trayvon to death, claiming self-defense.

And late last night, anger over the way police have handled the case filled the Allen Chapel AME Church in Sanford, a small city north of Orlando.

ALLIE BRASWELL: Trayvon Martin can't speak here today, but that's why we're gathered here.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

LOHR: Allie Braswell is head of the Urban League of Central Florida. He says civil rights groups talk about economic justice for African-Americans, but they must also address something more basic - discrimination that has threatened lives.

BRASWELL: We're talking about how to we bring people to this region. We're talking about how do we create jobs. But we are afraid to talk about the elephant in the room.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

LOHR: No charges have been filed in the case. In Sanford and across the country, many are calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman and for the resignation of the local police chief.

Benjamin Jealous is the national president of the NAACP. He told the crowd this case raises larger issues.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

BENJAMIN JEALOUS: But I come to you tonight as a son, a father, as an uncle, as a man who's tired of being scared for our boys.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

LOHR: Jealous says the local police department failed to do its job of protecting the entire community. Instead, he says, it fostered a system of discrimination and abuse.

JEALOUS: Our young men deserve, after 400 years in this country...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING APPLAUSE)

JEALOUS: ...deserve to be treated like human beings.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING APPLAUSE)

LOHR: Although city leaders had been expected to attend this forum, they were in Washington, D.C. yesterday, meeting with federal officials. The Justice Department and FBI are reviewing the case. Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett talked to reporters after the meeting.

MAYOR JEFF TRIPLETT: This is being played out in the press and in the court of public opinion. It's my job to try to make sure than our community is safe and our citizens are safe, and people that visit our community are safe. If we've made an error, I want someone to tell me.

LOHR: One of the biggest concerns here is the state's Stand Your Ground Law. It allows people to use deadly force to defend themselves and does not require them to retreat. Some say the law passed in 2005 should be repealed.

Talking with reporters yesterday, Florida Governor Rick Scott said it's possible the state could revisit the law.

GOVERNOR RICK SCOTT: And once we finish this investigation, if there's something that, you know, we need to adjust, I'm hopeful that, you know, the legislature would be interested in taking that up.

LOHR: Last night, outside the church in Sanford, Carolyn Walker, who's lived here all her life, says the situation has been frustrating.

CAROLYN WALKER: It's too much. It's just not enough justice. It's not right. I know somebody should have been arrested for that baby's killing.

LOHR: A couple miles down the road at a discount shopping center, many white residents of Sanford echoed the same sentiments.

ABE DYKES: None of it makes any sense to me. I mean it's just bad.

LOHR: Abe Dykes says he's as angry as those who attended the town meeting.

DYKES: Kid's dead and it's terrible. And the guy shouldn't have a gun permit. Therefore, he should be in jail, period.

LOHR: Diane Newton who's lived here for 30 years has three sons. She gets emotional as she talks about the shooting.

DIANE NEWTON: You think when you have a 17-year-old little man, that he should be able to go to the store an come home - and then he doesn't. I guess, as a mother, it's awful. It's awful.

LOHR: More town meetings and protests are planned this week. A grand jury is set to meet next month to consider charges. People here say they welcome the federal and state investigations and hope they'll result in prosecutions.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Sanford, Florida.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.