As George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial draws to close, law
enforcement agencies are preparing to quell any potential violence that the
verdict in the high-profile case could spark.
Locally and statewide, law enforcement agencies are ready to handle "whatever happens" following a verdict, Gov. Rick Scott told a South Florida TV station Thursday morning.
"We've got great sheriffs, police chiefs, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, I've been in contact with them, they're ready for whatever happens," Scott said during a morning appearance on WPEC TV in West Palm Beach.
A number of agencies, including FDLE, have been coordinating potential responses with the Seminole County Sheriff's Office and the Sanford Police Department, which have been the lead agencies since the Feb. 26, 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Miami Gardens teen.
Although Seminole County Sheriff's spokeswoman Kim Cannaday could not detail the office's plan to combat possible unrest, she said the agency is "well prepared."
Seminole County deputies, however, are not anticipating an extreme response to the verdict.
"Everything has been peaceful so far," Cannaday said. "We have no credible intelligence that says anything is planned for any civil unrest. We don't expect there to be any issues."
To that end, six members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference gathered outside Seminole County's criminal courthouse in Sanford Thursday morning to make a plea for peace.
"No matter what the outcome of this trial is, there must be calm in the middle of this storm," said SCLC president and Jacksonville Pastor R.L. Gundy. "There must be peace and not war. There must be love and not hate -- no matter what the outcome of this trial is."
Closing arguments in the case started Thursday and the jury is expected begin deliberations Friday afternoon.
Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith told the Orlando Sentinel Wednesday that he's doubtful violence will occur in Sanford -- regardless of the verdict.
"What people called for a year ago has happened -- an investigation into the shooting, George Zimmerman being charged, better training for law enforcement and the Department of Justice investigating the Sanford police department," Smith said. "Each of those things has been received."
Smith also said there has been a low turnout of protesters at the Seminole County courthouse throughout the trial so far.
Orlando Police Department spokesman Jim Young said officers are always prepared to handle any critical incident.
"We routinely train for, and handle, major events on all levels," Young said. "Discussing any information publicly would defeat any measure put in place and compromise public safety."
In Broward County, officials hoping to curb potential violence created a video public service announcement.
It features two teenagers -- a Hispanic female and a black male -- and members of the sheriff's office, who tell the public, "Raise your voice, and not your hands! We need to stand together as one, no cuffs, no guns. ... I know your patience will be tested, but law enforcement has your back!"
Miami-Dade Police Deputy Director Juan Perez told WFOR TV in Miami that plans have been discussed to avoid a situation similar to the 1980 riots in Liberty City that followed the death of Arthur McDuffie, an insurance salesman and former Marine who was beaten to death by a group of white Miami police officers.
One way to reduce the chance for post-verdict violence in the Zimmerman case may be to set up zones for people to protest, Perez said.
Although Gundy has called for peace, he says large-scale nonviolent protesting is still necessary to combat what he calls a nationwide culture of racial profiling -- something he say goes beyond just the decision of Zimmerman's guilt or innocence.
"If you decide you don't like the outcome of this trial, if you decide you want to protest, do it peacefully," he said, adding that Sanford is not the place to do it.
Instead, he suggested peaceful protests in larger cities "because the only way you're going to change something fundamentally is to let people who have the economics in this country know that we are tired of... (being) profiled because of the color of their skin."
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5447 or @desi_stennett on Twitter
(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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