In Sanford, Opinions Vary, But All Are Calling for Calm Ending

In the town where Trayvon Martin was killed, there seems to be one dominant opinion: the verdict should not lead to discord.

Posted: 06/12/2013 11:05 AM EDT

Shawn Wood and Theo Hollerbach. (Photos: Jonathan P. Hicks)

REPORTIING FROM SANFORD, FLORIDA

To Shawn Wood, the case is crystal clear. Had a 28-year-old African-American man shot and killed an unarmed white teenager, the assailant would have been arrested and convicted with record speed.

“He deserves to do some time,” said Wood, a barber whose shop is on a major street in the heart of the city’s African-American community, referring to George Zimmerman, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. “We just hope he doesn’t get off,” he added.

“He can’t just walk away from killing an unarmed young man,” Wood said, speaking with BET.com.

Less than a mile away, Theo Hollerbach, the owner of a prominent German restaurant in the heart of Sanford, said that the shooting of Martin by Zimmerman was the kind of unfortunate incident that could happen anywhere.

“But, what I don’t understand,” he explained, “is how there are Black people who seem to think that white people get up in the morning with the determination to make their lives difficult. I don’t know how people really think that.”

Not surprisingly, it is difficult to find anyone in Sanford who doesn’t have strong views about the case that has become internationally watched. To say the least, there are deep and highly contrasting views of the death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager, more than a year ago at the hands of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer of white and Hispanic background.

And as the trial of Zimmerman has gotten underway this week, the Sanford community is again reflecting on the death of Martin and what, if any, racial implications it bears, particularly for their city.

Sanford is a town of about 54,000 residents, about 30 percent of whom are African-American and about 20 percent Hispanic. It is a comfortable, working-class town but where about a fifth of the residents live below the poverty line.

Not always do opinions on the guilt or innocence of Zimmerman divide along racial lines, although it is not particularly uncommon when they do. The trial of Zimmerman has been the talk of the town, from barber shops and restaurants to business meetings and discussions in churches.

Where most residents of Sanford seem to be united, however, is in the hope that the verdict, whatever it is, will not lead to unrest. And more than that, many have expressed the hope that the discussions of the death of Martin will lead to a broader understanding between the residents of Sanford – and beyond.

“This is of keen interest to everyone here,” said the Rev. John Murphy, the pastor of the Harvest Time International Church, speaking with BET.com. “This goes beyond a somebody-shot-somebody situation. It’s a trial that centers on racial justice as well as criminal justice.”

Murphy, who is white and has spent considerable time with the parents of Martin in the opening days of the trial, said, “We want to make sure nothing like this happens again.”

He added, “We all have to pull together because we believe this is a great city. We want to remove the obstacles in the way of people living in peace.”

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