Police and community activists around Florida are preparing for the possibility of mass protests if George Zimmerman is acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin. Police are on standby as Zimmerman’s trial closes and the jury gets the case.
For months, officials in the city of Sanford and across South Florida have been working with pastors and youth counselors to stress a non-violent approach if Zimmerman walks free. And police all over the state are joining in the effort.
In a video public service announcement from the Broward County Sherriff’s Office, called “Raise Your Voice, Not Your Hands,” Miami Heat player James Jones says, “Talk it out. Show your community what you stand for.”
Broward County Sherriff Scott Israel said the ad is part of a cooperative strategy for preventing violence.
“We understand that the world will be watching to see how South Florida responds to the verdict. And we can’t change the tragedy, but we can work to prevent future tragedies,” he said.
Israel said his office has met with high school football coaches, rabbis and other youth leaders to ask them to reinforce a message of nonviolence. And police are monitoring social media for any hints of planned demonstrations.
Still, Leon County Sherriff Larry Campbell says officers from his panhandle county and others across the state are on standby if they’re needed to quell any riots. Campbell said he’s been in frequent contact with Donald Eslinger, who’s the sheriff in Seminole County, where Zimmerman is on trial, as well as with black community organizers.
“We’ve been exchanging intelligence information on the Zimmerman trial from the get-go,” Campbell said. “At the same time, the president of the NAACP is a friend of mine. And we have talked.”
Activists say, after police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, large but peaceful protests across the country put a spotlight on the case and eventually led to Zimmerman’s being charged with second-degree murder.
Martin, the 17-year old from Miami Gardens, was in Sanford visiting his father when Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, fatally shot him last February. Martin's supporters said the shooting was racially motivated, while Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, is claiming self-defense.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.