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NEWS

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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“It's not about money,” she says. “This should be about justice for their child. If it's for something that helps another child, they are very happy about that. But the political aspect is not what they are in this for. That's for lobbyists and politicians to deal with.”

At a March 26 rally in Fort Mellon Park, it was clear that the cashing in had already begun. Trayvon Martin's image was ubiquitous, not just on homemade signs and photos, but on T-shirts being sold by hawkers out of piles on the ground, the backs of trucks and out of hand carts being pushed through the crowd. A crew of young sign-holders saying they were from the New Black Panther Party marched through the crowd announcing that it had put a $10,000 bounty on George Zimmerman's head in Trayvon Martin's name – a bounty Martin's parents, who say they want a peaceful, legal resolution, do not support or endorse. Jackson says the legal team has already begun sending out cease-and-desist orders for unauthorized use of Trayvon's photo and name. Given that context, the trademark makes sense.

As for turning this into a racial issue, Jackson says it's not the family who has been trying to make this about race. Media outlets – including this one – have taken an intense interest in Sanford's racial makeup and history, the tension felt between the black community and the police, the question of whether Zimmerman was suspicious of Trayvon simply because he was black. And it just so happens, she says, that Sanford does have a problem – if not of overt racial intolerance, perhaps – of accepting racial inequity. In education, in housing, in law enforcement.

Jackson recounts the case of an 18-year-old black teen she represented in Seminole County early in her career. He was smart and educated about his Constitutional rights, so when a police officer in Sanford demanded one night that he get out of his parked car for what seemed like no good reason, the kid asked the officer why.

“The police officer then slammed him into the car and on the concrete, his nose was broken, his jaw was broken,” Jackson says. “A crowd was gathering so he had no choice but arrest him. They take him to the fire department to clean him up because he has blood all over his face. And they take him to the police department and charge him with resisting arrest without violence. … This was a kid who had never been in trouble before, decent in school, no problems. [His mother] bonds him out, we're thinking this is an easy case.”

She says she learned a hard lesson about justice when her client lost the trial and ended up with six months' probation when he probably should never have been arrested at all. She says cases like that are commonplace in many cities, including Sanford, so a lot of people accept them as part of the fabric of justice. Instead, Jackson says, it's a travesty of justice.

“There's a complacency where people feel you can't do anything, this is just the way it goes,” she says. “And when it's like that, the police officers feel invincible when they try to deny your rights. And they have been invincible. And this is why it's struck such a chord.”

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