Commissioners call for Sanford police chief to resign

By John W. Davis, Christian De La Rosa, Scott McDonnell and Bakari Savage, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The city commission has called for the chief of police to resign in light of the Trayvon Martin shooting investigation.

The commission voted 3 to 2 Wednesday night during a special meeting to discuss logistics for the upcoming regular meeting Monday.

Commissioner Mark McCarty asked for a vote of no confidence Wednesday on Chief Bill Lee. Despite the vote, though, ultimately, a decision will be up to the city manager.

Many people are angry at Lee and his department for not arresting George Zimmerman, who admitted to shooting Martin last month. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense, and Lee says because of that, he cannot arrest him.

“I hope this brings some comfort to them that we're moving forward,” McCarty said.

Commissioner Velma Williams and Mayor Jeff Triplett voted in favor of the motion that passed 3 to 2. Still, the decision will be left to Norton Bonaparte, Sanford city manager.

“I'll certainly take it into consideration but the reality is, what did Chief Lee do? Did he act inappropriately? Has he caused a problem? That's what I'm going to be looking at,” Bonaparte said.

Bill Lee has only been chief of police 10 months. He was hired following a scandal in which the son of a Sanford police officer was caught on video beating a homeless man who was also black.

Bonaparte says he wants to wait for the report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, or the state attorney's office, before making a final decision.

The commission has also decided to to move Monday's regular commission meeting to the Sanford Civic Center. Thousands of people are expected to show up in support of Trayvon Martin. City officials says they will be treating it like a Fourth of July event.

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Thousands march in hoodies for Trayvon Martin

Demonstrators chanted "we want arrests'" during Wednesday night's Million Hoodie March in Manhattan's Union Square and in Miami, where Trayvon Martin is from.

Trayvon Martin's mother and father were present for the march. Tracy Martin, Trayvon's father, says his son didn't deserve to die.

The hoodie has become a symbol for protesters who are angry about what happened to the 17-year-old, but also about the way they feel African-Americans are treated throughout the country. They say they are looked upon as suspicious.

The protesters have also taken to carrying Skittles and iced tea. These were the two things found on Trayvon Martin when he was shot on his way back from a convenience store.

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Will Trayvon Martin rallies have long-term impact?

The death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was used as the starting point for a NAACP Police Misconduct Forum Wednesday.

The forum took place at Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, where Tuesday's NAACP town hall meeting was held.

But will rallies for justice concerning Trayvon Martin make a long-term difference?

“I'm not saying we should stop rallying and protesting and boycotting and having the speeches given. I'm just saying maybe we need to find new methods,” said Geneva resident Hannibal Duncan.

“Protest movements starting from the (American) Revolution, to the Civil War, to the civil rights movement have been what has changed our society and made it better and this movement and this society will make Sanford better,” said NAACP National President and CEO Ben Jealous.

“Law enforcement and our elected officials, it's almost as if they don't bat an eye at the rallies, the protests, the boycotts, the speeches,” Duncan said.

Duncan was one of several people who spoke Wednesday afternoon. Most told their individual experiences of African-American male family members dying or being injured without justice in the Sanford community. However, Duncan believes African-Americans have to do more than rally and speak out.

“We gotta get more heavily involved in politics for one and you gotta have re-indoctrination of our children,” Duncan said, as he discussed Martin's death being a call for political and community engagement. ““It comes down to voting and being more involved from the community level up.”

“This might be hopefully such a shock to the system, to the political system that people will step back and say this isn't the way to do stuff,” said former U.S. Congressman Lou Frey Jr. “When these things happen, they're not going to go away. You can't bury them as you could in the old days. Don't talk about it. Don't run it in the paper. Not anymore. People now control the press. The press doesn't control the people.”

“I think this one as we say in the political world has legs. Some of these things happen and it's a one day event or something like that. This is not a one day event. This is going to be a continuing event, and you know, maybe it's not a bad thing,” added Frey, who hopes the story gets the attention of local, state and national politicians.

Frey eventually believes Martin's death may be a catalyst for more tolerance and less racial profiling.

Meanwhile, several of the residents who spoke at the forum shared similar stories of injustice that ended in the death or mistreatment of African-American males by the Sanford Police Department.

Several of those residents vowed to stand up, testify and make a difference in the future of their community.

NAACP leaders added they will submit several of Wednesday's testimonies about police misconduct in Sanford to the Department of Justice for their investigation concerning the Sanford Police Department.

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Protesters want Zimmerman's weapons license suspended

Demands have rapidly grown for Trayvon Martin's shooter to have his weapons license suspended.

A group of activists met Wednesday morning outside the Florida Division of Licensing to convince officials to suspend George Zimmerman's concealed weapons permit.

Zimmerman was legally carrying a registered gun the night he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The neighborhood watch volunteer claimed he was acting in self-defense.

Protesters have called him a "threat to society," especially after hearing his previous phone calls to a non-emergency phone line reporting suspicious young, black men in his neighborhood.

Now, a large group of people want Zimmerman to no longer be able to carry a weapon.

But as long as he's a free man, his permit cannot be suspended. The state does not have that power without an arrest, and Zimmerman has not been charged with anything.

Florida state Attorney Norm Wolfinger has said all of the evidence in this case will get another look when it goes to a grand jury April 10.

Meanwhile, state officials are collecting evidence from the federal investigators and Sanford police.

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Neighborhood watch volunteer stands behind Zimmerman

There's a lot of outrage directed toward George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin. At least one man, however, is standing by Zimmerman.

Frank Taaffe is on the neighborhood watch committee for the Twin Lakes community, and says he takes that job seriously. He also says he knows Zimmerman.

“I'd just like to share, George you've got my cell number. I need you to call me please," Taaffe said. "You and I together, we can work this thing out and get your side of the story with mine -- that I know about you, that you're a very congenial and amiable person that really cared about our community and its safety.”

Taaffe says their neighborhood had been burglarized eight times by people who looked like Trayvon Martin, including Taaffe's home.

“George is credited with thwarting the efforts of a young black male who was lurking in my house one night,” Taaffe said.

He says Zimmerman is a good guy that got caught in a situation that escalated. Now the neighborhood needs time to heal.