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3:05 pm
Fri July 12, 2013

Community Leaders Brace For Fallout From Zimmerman Verdict

Originally published on Sat July 13, 2013 5:30 am

As the nation waits for the jury's verdict on George Zimmerman, community leaders in Florida are in place, prepared for a big public reaction.

Government and law enforcement officials say they're hoping for the best with any demonstrations that may come after the verdict. But they're also preparing for the worst – rising tensions that could escalate violently.

An 'Opportunity' For Peace?

After the jury for was released on Friday to begin deliberations, Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith and Seminole County Sheriff Donald Eslinger appeared before cameras at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center.

Eslinger said he expects the Sanford community to react peacefully to the verdict, even encouraging local businesses to not disrupt operations and residents to go about their lives normally. But he also warned, "We will not tolerate anyone who uses this verdict as an excuse to violate the law."

Smith described the waiting period for a verdict as a "trying time," as well as an opportunity "to speak our piece peacefully, to come together peacefully and when you leave here, you leave here peacefully."

But if peace does not come after the verdict is announced, local law enforcement does have a response plan in place. Smith told NPR that there will be an increased police presence on the streets of Sanford in the coming days.

'A Butterfly In The Stomach'

Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett says an uneasy feeling is to be expected in town right now. "There's a nervous anxiety, almost a butterfly in the stomach," he explains.

Since the death of Trayvon Martin, tensions have run high in parts of Sanford and around the country as communities grappled over issues of race, profiling and Stand Your Ground laws that surround the case.

So far, though, Triplett says Sanford has been clear of tensions turning into violence, but he adds, "You have to be prepared for it. You'd be stupid not to prepare for it."

In South Florida, communities more than 200 miles away from Sanford are also preparing. In Miami, officials plan to set up a special protesting zone. In Broward County, the sheriff's office produced public service announcements, encouraging the public to "Raise your voice! And not your hands!"

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel says his team is drawing lessons in part from the widespread unrest sparked by the 1992 L.A. riots. "We understand that the world will be watching to see how South Florida responds to the verdict," he says.

NPR's Maureen Chowdhury and Diane Jeanty‎ contributed to this report.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And as we await the verdict in the Zimmerman trial, community leaders in Florida are prepared for a big public reaction. Government officials and law enforcement say they're hoping for the best with any demonstrations that may come after the verdict. But they're also preparing for the worst. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports from Sanford, Florida.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: After the jury was released today to begin deliberations, Sanford police chief Cecil Smith and Florida's Seminole County Sheriff appeared before the cameras at the courthouse.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Good afternoon. Chief Smith and I appreciate the opportunity of being here.

WANG: Smith described this waiting period for the verdict as a trying time and as an opportunity.

CECIL SMITH: To ensure that we have an opportunity to speak our piece peacefully, to come together peacefully. And when you leave here, you leave here peacefully.

WANG: But if peace does not come after the verdict is announced, local law enforcement do have a response plan in place. Chief Smith told NPR that there will be an increased police presence on the streets of Sanford in the coming days. Smith isn't the only official keeping an eye on how Sanford reacts.

MAYOR JEFF TRIPLETT: There's a nervous anxiety, almost a butterfly in the stomach.

WANG: Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett says that uneasy feeling is to be expected in town right now. Since the death of Trayvon Martin, tensions have run high in parts of Sanford and around the country, as communities grappled over issues of race, profiling and stand your ground laws that surround the case. So far, though, Triplett says Sanford has been clear of tensions turning into violence.

TRIPLETT: I haven't heard that that's going to happen.

WANG: But you're preparing for that.

TRIPLETT: You have to be prepared for it. You'd be stupid not to prepare for it.

WANG: In south Florida, communities more than 200 miles away from Sanford are also preparing. In Miami, officials plan to set up special zones for protesting. And in Broward County, the sheriff's office is preparing for public outcry with a pair of public service announcements.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Raise your voice.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: And not your hands.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We need to stand together as one. No cuffs, no guns.

WANG: There's one that even features Miami Heat player James Jones.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

JAMES JONES: Talk it out. Show your community what you stand for.

WANG: Standing in front of Jones in one of the videos is Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. He says his team is drawing lessons in part from the widespread unrest sparked by the 1992 L.A. riots.

SCOTT ISRAEL: We understand that the world will be watching to see how south Florida responds to the verdict.

WANG: Back in Sanford, community members at a festive street fair yesterday said they're ready for it all to be over. Frank Bruno, who is white, served beer to passersby.

FRANK BRUNO: Everybody's just, you know, business as usual, business as normal.

WANG: It sounds like you're not very worried.

BRUNO: No, not too worried.

DAVE PIPPETT: I'm deeply concerned that if he gets acquitted in the next couple days, it's going to turn very violent. I'll be honest with you.

WANG: The concern of Dave Pippett, who is white, was not shared by Tammy Griffin(ph), who is African-American.

TAMMY GRIFFIN: I don't have butterflies, I'm not worried because I feel like it's going to be in control. I mean, everybody was peaceful before, why won't they be peaceful now?

WANG: Bob Durant(ph) is a retired African-American police officer. He hopes the public will keep in mind that the legal justice system isn't perfect.

BOB DURANT: It's not always right. But it's what we have to live with. And we need to live with it.

WANG: Live with it, he says, and learn from it and then go on. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, Sanford, Florida. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.