How has Trayvon Martin’s death affected police-community relations in Sanford? – Central Florida News – Social Justice

Georgetown, like Goldsboro, is a historically black neighborhood in Sanford. In the 10 years since Trayvon Martin’s death, the police department has worked to improve police-community relations. Photo: Allegra Montesano, WMFE News

SANFORD — A decade ago, the Sanford Police Department drew protests from members of the city’s black communities when it failed to charge Trayvon Martin’s killer.

Distrust of law enforcement, they said, had deep roots in this central Florida town.

Nationally, Martin’s death and the acquittal of his killer more than a year later sparked the modern Black Lives Matter movement and a call for police reform. In Sanford, the case also resurfaced a troubled past for some of the city’s historically black communities and reminded leaders of the urgent need to ease tensions between black people and law enforcement.

Francis Oliver is the founder of the Goldsboro Museum and Welcome Center in Sanford.

She said the tension was felt especially in Goldsboro. It was one of the oldest incorporated African-American cities in the United States. But over 100 years ago, in 1911, Sanford annexed Goldsboro.

“That’s when the city of Sanford dissolved the charter of Goldsboro, which at the time was its own city, its own government, its own municipality, its own post office and everything,” Oliver said.

Neighborhoods like Goldsboro were formed after the Civil War to provide provisions and shelter for freedmen and refugees. When the community was annexed to Sanford, a lot changed. Racial disparities were highlighted and their history squashed.

A year after Martin’s death, Oliver told WMFE she hopes relations between Sanford police and residents will improve.

Andrew Thomas, Sanford’s director of community relations and neighborhood engagement, said he understands the history of the African-American community there. Thomas said he recognizes that black residents need to be heard for the relationship to be repaired.

“It was a lot of listening, in terms of what the community had to say… about what was being done, what had been done. As you probably well know, there’s a lot of history in this community,” Thomas said. “That particular incident with Trayvon kind of rejuvenated a lot of the history that Sanford and the African-American community had gone through.”

Amid the Trayvon Martin case, Thomas said many in the Sanford community feel confirmed in their distrust of law enforcement. They felt like it hadn’t been handled the way it should have been.

Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith said he immediately saw the need to improve the city’s relationship with police when he took over as department head in April 2013. He felt the problems outside and inside the department needed to be resolved.

Smith initially focused on internal issues, beginning by encouraging his agents to go door to door in Goldsboro so residents could get to know them.

“The first meeting I had with some of my guys, they told me I was crazy because I wanted to walk around Goldsboro,” Smith said. “So if you’re scared to go out and do this job, you don’t have to be here to do this job – you can’t be scared of the community that you say you’re supposed to go out and protect and to serve.

With door-to-door presentations and “chats with the chief,” in which he invites residents to have a drink and chat with him, he said he believes the Sanford community and the police department were now on the same wavelength.

“We have this understanding that we are all human, that we all want to live in harmony and that you give us the opportunity to ensure the peace and tranquility that you have in society today and to work with us to make so that it continues. “Smith said.

Oliver has been one of the Sanford Police Department’s most vocal critics in the past. Now she says that while they still have work to do, they have come a long way.

“I wouldn’t say there aren’t certain things that could be done better. But it’s better than it was. It’s better than before Trayvon. It’s better than it was before Cecil arrived,” Oliver said.

About Michael C. Lovelace

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