Florida Braces for Post Zimmerman Verdict Riots as Miami Police Set Up ‘First Amendment Zones’ Where They Want to Control the Possible Rioters
Meghan Keneally, Daily Mail (London), July 12, 2013
Miami police have made contingency plans for possible riots in case George Zimmerman is found innocent of murdering Trayvon Martin.
Though the trial- and the February 2012 murder- took place about 250 miles north in Sanford, Florida, Miami officials are still concerned about a potentially violent reaction to the verdict.
‘I know that child was born and raised here in Miami he got killed up in Sanford. But that has no reason for our young folk to get fired up and talk about bringing destruction on the city,’ one Miami pastor told the local CBS station.
Both the Miami Dade police officers and those in Sanford have been actively encouraging religious leaders to extoll the power of peaceful demonstrations in the possible protests.
‘Riots are not acceptable and riots are not expected,’ Miami Dade Police director JD Patterson said.
Miami police have also gone beyond their Sanford counterparts and have deemed two different parks as ‘First Amendment zones’ where they suggest people gather if they want to express their thoughts about the trial.
‘The point is, we just don’t want people sporadically in places unplanned, spontaneously, voicing themselves in such a way that it brings up anger and hostility and violence,’ Mr Patterson said.
While the trial was still going on, Sanford police took a pre-emptive approach as they went door-to-door in the area warning residents about possible riots or uprisings should the former neighborhood watch member be acquitted in the murder trial.
According to Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith, who was promoted after the former police chief resigned amid the Martin shooting scandal, they are more concerned about out-of-towners causing trouble than local residents.
‘Our worst fear is that we will have people from outside of the community coming in and stirring up…violence in the community,’ Mr Smith told CNN.
The high racial tensions in the area following the shooting- Zimmerman is of Hispanic descent and Martin was African American- prompted fears that a riot could break out similar to those following the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1992.
‘I’m saying that’s a scenario that’s certainly a possibility,’ city manager Norton Bonaparte told CNN.
No public officials or police officers would go into the exact details of the plans, but it is clear that they are trying to take a more inter-personal, soft approach to dealing with any possible conflict.
In addition to meeting with residents individually to hear their concerns, pastors have been asked to attend the trial so that they can serve as citizen witnesses within the community after the case comes to a close.
Valerie Houston, a pastor from Sanford, told CNN that when asked by her congregants what she thought of the trial, she said she planned to respond ‘that justice has been served’.
‘As a pastor and as a leader in this community I will have to. I feel confident with the skills and the God-given ability that I have to articulate- now, will they accept what I say? That will be totally up to them.’
Others don’t think that the ripple effects from the trial will be limited to Florida, as conservative political commentator and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan wrote a column for Real Clear Politics about possible riots back in May.
‘The public mind has been so poisoned that an acquittal of George Zimmerman could ignite a reaction similar to that, 20 years ago, when the Simi Valley jury acquitted the LAPD cops in the Rodney King beating case,’ he wrote even before the trial had begun.