George Zimmerman trial rekindles racial debate

2:46 PM, Jun 11, 2013   |    comments
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Protesters gathered outside the courthouse in Sanford, Florida, for the first day of the George Zimmerman trial on June 10, 2013. Zimmerman is charged in the February 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.


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  • SANFORD, FL (Florida Today) -- To the Rev. Glenn Dames, Trayvon Martin's death has revived a necessary conversation that reaches back to the civil-rights movement.

    George Zimmerman, the man who fatally shot the 17-year-old Trayvon, spent Monday inside the Seminole County courthouse, facing the start of his trial more than a year after the deadly confrontation. But for Dames, pastor at St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in Titusville, Florida, and others, that doesn't mean the case - or the issues it raises - are close to being over.

    "The way I see it is it's provided an avenue, or a vehicle, for us to talk about subjects that were probably uncomfortable previous to this incident," Dames said. "Now this has sparked a conversation about what I like to call the elephant in the room, ... about race and relationships that I think had been there but just had not been discussed previously."

    Dames spent part of Monday afternoon inside the courthouse about 25 miles north of Orlando with Trayvon's family. He's been involved in the case since February 2012 when George Zimmerman killed Trayvon and has organized several rallies and protests in neighboring Brevard County. Lawyers began jury selection Monday, looking for the people who will determine whether Zimmerman is guilty or innocent of the charge against him: second-degree murder.

    The case, arguably one of the highest profile in this area, is drawing media from around the globe. But Monday, save for reporters and a handful of protesters, it was a sleepy scene in front of the Sanford courthouse.

    About 15 people gathered to support Trayvon and his family. Some wore hooded sweatshirts like the one Trayvon wore when he was killed. After lunch, none lingered. Most sought shelter from the scorching sun and a high near 90 degrees in trailers clustered on the outskirts of the justice center complex. Seminole County sheriff's deputies stood watch over the courthouse grounds, well outnumbering protesters.

    At about 1 p.m., Warren Lundquist and Augusta Williams Jr. of Palm Bay, Fla., packed up their folding chairs and signs. They were told they couldn't use the bathroom at the courthouse, necessitating they leave in search of a restroom.

    Williams said they were "just private citizens expressing our rights." He said he wished more people had turned out Monday - for either side.

    "Rights are like muscles," he said. "(If) you don't use them, you lose them. It's evident that we are losing more and more of our rights."

    He is opposed to Florida's so-called Stand Your Ground law, which allows people use deadly force in public for self-defense without first trying to escape from the danger.

    "I don't believe it's a defense. I think it's an offense," he said. "I believe Stand Your Ground has its place, but not in the public section. Maybe in your home or private property."

    Zimmerman's lawyers are expected to argue during trial that the volunteer neighborhood watchman acted in self-defense. For Williams and many others who gathered Monday, the case catapults issues of racism to the forefront.

    "I believe if the roles were reversed, and Trayvon was Zimmerman and Zimmerman was Trayvon, it'd be a different outcome," Williams said. "Everybody knows there's two different laws: One for the blacks, one for the whites; one for the rich, one for the poor."

    About eight protesters with - the "voice of the revolutionary communist party," according to its website - marched onto the grass in front of the courthouse, carrying signs and chanting in unison: "Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, no more youth getting killed. The whole system is guilty."

    Group spokesman Noche Diaz said the case is an example of rampant racism against Latino and black youth, later calling Zimmerman a vigilante. However, Diaz did not know that Zimmerman had been charged with murder in the case.

    "We're here to connect this struggle up with the struggle to stop, you know, the whole generations of black youth who have been criminalized and set up for a future of massive incarceration, treated as criminals," he said.

    Dames also drew connections between the Trayvon case and Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy killed in Mississippi in 1955 for flirting with a white woman. That case helped sparked the civil rights movement. In the same vein, the 2012 death of 17-year-old Trayvon has renewed conversations about race in the United States, Dames said.

    "You do see some similarities with the two except for the fact that now we have justice coming," Dames said. "Hopefully, at the end of the day, everybody can move on, get the closure they need so badly and begin the healing process. Healing is going to be very, very important. At the end of the day I want to see everybody become better."

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