As the George Zimmerman trial winds down, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office is preparing for an all-out riot, taking preemptive measures to warn supporters of slain teenager Trayvon Martin that violence will not be tolerated when they gather to hear the verdict.
The move came just days before Judge Debra Nelson agreed Thursday to allow jurors to consider a manslaughter charge for Zimmerman, despite the fact that he’s on trial for a second-degree murder charge. Second-degree murder could lead to a life sentence in Florida. Manslaughter, however, carries a maximum 30-year sentence. The verdict is expected by next week.
George Zimmerman was charged after he shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin while Martin was walking home from a convenience store. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, claims he shot him in self-defense. The prosecution claims Zimmerman was an overzealous vigilante who shot Martin and attempted to hide behind Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which allows an individual to use force against someone who they believe is threatening their life.
Sheriff Scott Israel claims his department hasn’t caught wind of any specific threat of violence, but he’s prepared for a mixed crowd on the day of the verdict — and he’s targeting those who passionately support Martin.
“Freedom of expression is a constitutional right,” the sheriff’s department states. “While raising your voice is encouraged, using your hands is not.”
The problem seen among those who support Martin is that law enforcement authorities seem to be targeting only their side, seemingly unfazed by the prospect that Zimmerman supporters could also cause violence.
“To try to preemptively deter the black community from taking matters into their own hands should they feel justice has not been done is ironic considering that Zimmerman’s actions themselves were a kind of vigilantism — a violence above and beyond what many, including the prosecution and Martin’s family, feel was necessary,” Marc W. Polite, a political author, wrote for Times Ideas.
The video released by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office confirms that, depicting a young Black man and a Hispanic teenage girl wearing a shirt with “Hope” written on the front. Behind the two teens stand a group of primarily Black youth.
Titled “Raise Your Voice, Not Your Hands,” the video also uses hip-hop to send its message.
“We need to stand together as one, no cuffs, no guns,” the girl in the video says, followed up with the young man saying, “Let’s give violence a rest, because we can easily end up arrested.”
The video concludes with representatives from the sheriff’s office joining them on screen, with Israel saying, “I’m Sheriff Scott Israel and law enforcement does have your back.”
The case was emotional before Zimmerman was even charged, with thousands rallying throughout the country for justice. When the jury was selected last month, no Black citizens were selected, furthering the racial tension surrounding the case.