Chad Smith, The Gainesville Sun, April 12, 2012
The name of Trayvon Martin was invoked again Wednesday night in Gainesville during an attack by a group that police say stomped on a white man who was scuffling with a black robbery suspect on the Bo Diddley Community Plaza.
The robbery suspect, Carl Milton Babb, 50, had been released from prison earlier in the day after serving more than two years in prison for the same crime he is accused of committing Wednesday — snatching a purse from a woman near the downtown plaza.
According to a Gainesville Police Department arrest report, Babb approached a woman eating dinner at the Lunchbox on the plaza at about 8:50 p.m. and asked her for a light.
When she said she didn’t have one, Babb took off with her purse, which contained her $500 cellphone, according to the report.
The woman’s dinner companion and another person took off after Babb.
When her friend caught up with Babb, according to the police report, Babb punched him in the face and grabbed his hair, but he was able to keep Babb pinned down, according to the report.
The scene attracted a crowd, and a number of people on the plaza approached Babb and the Good Samaritan, who tried to explain that Babb had just stolen his friend’s purse.
GPD spokeswoman Cpl. Angelina Valuri said some members of the crowd shouted “Trayvon!” and that at least three of members of the crowd began stomping on the hands of the woman’s friend to force him to let go of Babb.
Valuri said some witnesses to the robbery tried to calm down the crowd, affirming the victim’s story that he was trying to stop a man accused of a crime and retrieve his friend’s purse.
“The crowd was acting off of emotion without knowing all of the facts of this case,” Valuri said, adding that investigators didn’t immediately know the names or races of the men or women who stomped on the victim.
It was the second attack in the past week in Gainesville in which assailants yelled the first name of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black 17-year-old who was shot and killed by crime-watch volunteer George Zimmerman as the teen walked back to his father’s girlfriend’s apartment in Sanford on Feb. 26.
In Gainesville early Saturday, a 27-year-old white man was beaten by a group of between five and eight black men as he walked home on Southwest 23rd Terrace, police said.
According to the GPD report, Babb told Officer Jon Rappa he was “high on crack and doesn’t remember what happened.”
He also said he had been released from prison earlier in the day.
The officer checked with the Florida Department of Corrections, and it was true.
Babb was released Wednesday from Holmes Correctional Institution in Bonifay after serving two years and two months after he was convicted of felony battery and petit theft for a purse snatching.