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Trayvon Martin case is a black eye for Sanford

As public scrutiny mounts, the city of Sanford struggles with its reputation

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A month and a half before he died in 2011, 27-year-old Jimmie Flanders told his grandmother, Lula King: “I'm not going to live to see 28.”

“I wished I had known he was telling the truth,” King told an emotional crowd that had gathered at the Allen Chapel of the African Methodist Episcopal Church on Olive Street in Sanford on March 21. It was an overcast Wednesday afternoon, but the pews were full – dozens had gathered not for services but to share their stories of unfair treatment at the hands of the Sanford Police Department.

The NAACP's national president and CEO, Ben Jealous, sat at a table at the front of the room with Seminole County's NAACP president, Turner Clayton Jr., while resident after resident – mostly women, several whom identified themselves as mothers and grandmothers of black men who died far too young – came forth to recount tales of arrests gone wrong, shootings that hadn't been investigated, excessive use of force, racial profiling. One man talked about watching his friend being beaten by police in an alley and a woman talked about having police throw a roadblock under her car tires when she was driving home at night because they thought she was somebody else. She hadn't done anything wrong, she says, and her car tire was busted by the block. But mostly, she was scared to have become the subject of suspicion simply for driving while black. “I could have been killed,” she said.

Then there were the stories like King's. The 75-year-old clenched her fists as she told Jealous about her grandson. Flanders had apparently had his share of run-ins with the law, and in spring of 2011, King says, he was taken into custody on an outstanding arrest warrant. While he was in the holding cell, she says, Flanders had a seizure. “He was kicking his legs, because that's what seizures do to you,” she said. “Three [officers] came in and beat him up.”

She says that when she got him out of jail, he had a lump the size of a “hen egg” on his head. He was bruised and scratched and beat up. She says she went to the police to file a complaint, but was told that no one had beaten Flanders – he had injured himself while in the cell. For weeks after he came home, he complained that he didn't feel well, that he knew something was wrong. Six weeks later, she says, he was dead. King is convinced that the beating had something to do with it. After the print version of this story went to press, Sanford police public information officer, Sgt. David Morgenstern returned a call for comment on the Flanders case and some of the other cases detailed in the church that day. "We rely on the community a lot to help us to find witnesses and whatnot," he said. "We’re not there for every crime that takes place, so we have to rely on the community to help us solve these." He asked for us to email him with more information on the cases and said he would try to respond in more detail.

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