Anxieties Over Profiling and Vigilantism as Bunnell Marchers Protest Zimmerman Verdict
FlaglerLive | July 15, 2013
It was an impromptu sort of thing, as it was in the rest of the country.
Saturday evening, less than 24 hours after the not-guilty verdict in George Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial, 30-year-old Dewayne Jenkins of Bunnell sent out word on Facebook that he’d be leading a march in memory of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old Zimmerman shot and killed in Sanford in February 2012, triggering a national debate on profiling, race, self-defense, gun laws and vigilantism.
By the time of the march at 2 p.m. Sunday, fewer than two dozen people had gathered at the south end of South Bacher Street in South Bunnell, where the march was to start. It was raining off and on, a few more people would come and go as a group worked on finishing a few signs, and in the end the number of people wasn’t much smaller than the 40 who marched in Atlanta or similarly small clusters in many towns and cities across the country. (Some 250 marchers protested in Washington, D.C., and hundreds grew into a few thousand as an improvised march waded through the heart of Manhattan Sunday evening.) It would be a more muted event than the “We Are Trayvon” march two Palm Coast women organized in March 2012, drawing some 125 people down Belle Terre.
For Jenkins and others who’d gathered in Bunnell Sunday, it was a chance to show solidarity with marchers elsewhere, to replay the trial and try to understand its meaning, and implications. But the atmosphere, in Bunnell as elsewhere, including Sanford, was distinctly calm, in contrast with the aftermath of the verdict that acquitted the four Los Angeles police officers who’d beaten up Rodney King, triggering the deadliest riots in Los Angeles’s history.
“I’m not going to say it was because of the verdict because obviously that can’t be changed, but just to show that it’s not appreciated,” Jenkins said. “This is not for right now, it’s for the future, in case this happens again. Because it’s a pattern that in Florida alone people are getting off for killing people.”
“It bothers me,” a Bunnell woman who identified herself as Trena, said, “because I’ve got a 17-year-old son and I work the overnight shift. He could be coming from the store or anything and somebody thinking that he’s trying to do something wrong and take the law in their hands and want to do something to him. Coming from his friend’s house, he shouldn’t have to have a curfew that it’s dark that you can’t come outside and put your hood on.”
Tony Williams, 26, was wearing a hoodie that commemorates his brother Eugene, who died in 2003. When he heard the verdict late Friday night, he couldn’t say anything. “I just tensed up,” he said. “I just froze. My whole body froze, because I really didn’t expect that. I was shocked.
“I got up and came outside and stood outside. I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t speak.”
Williams worried about another brother of his, taking the verdict as a signal that after all the talk of a post-racial America, being young and black can still feel like walking a tightrope. “I have a brother that just left for Job Corps, he’s up in Kentucky, he’s been up there for seven or eight months maybe,” Williams said. “It’s kind of rough out there, he’s only 19, he’s got a long life ahead of him, and I speak to him two, three times a week, I keep tabs on him. He called me and told me he got into a little thing, I talked him through it. I feel for him because he’s young, and it’s rough in Kentucky and he’s up there by himself.”
Most if not all the people who’d gathered on Bacher Street–all but one or two whites–had followed the trial closely and could analyze its two sides’ strategies in sharp details. Their conversation at times took the form of a town square debate, animated on occasion by the sound of an iced tea can popping open, or a bag of Skittles crumpling: Dewayne Jenkins had bought a box-full of both. Martin had been returning from a convenience store with a bag of Skittles and an iced tea when Zimmerman spotted him and set his suspicions loose.
“We don’t want no riot,” Roger Jenkins, 45, who is Dewayne’s uncle, said. “Everything should remain the same or even calmer, but this should open up a lot of eyes. Everybody needs to come and be one. This is the best country, we’re in America, right? And you’ve got all your rights, so why go kill somebody?”
“You know the scary thing about this whole thing now? It’s given people like Zimmerman the right to go ahead and kill a child,” Williams says.
Roger Jenkins again: “What if a kid walking home from school had to cut through a white neighborhood to come home? That’s his route. Then it’d be some ignorant person telling him, get the hell out of our neighborhood, and he says something back, then it turns into that, then he gets shot.”
Dewayne Jenkins: “This trial, him being found not guilty paints this picture that if someone is walking through your neighborhood that you don’t recognize, you can go confront them, pick a fight, they kick your ass, and you can shoot them. That’s basically what that’s saying. That’s all that verdict says. You see someone walking through your neighborhood, you can stop them, pick a fight, if they can start beating you up, you can shoot them.” His direct opinion of Zimmerman? “He’s a vigilante is what he is.”
Most could not fault the jury for finding Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder, but most couldn’t accept that he’d simply walked free.
“I’ll go as far as saying this,” Dewayne Jenkins said. “If I was on the stand, if I was one of the six jurors, and just went on the evidence from the trial, not knowing anything outside, I’d probably side with Zimmerman too. I wouldn’t have pushed for second-degree murder. But manslaughter?”
Emma Sanders, originally from Bunnell, had come to the march from Palm Coast, with her 2-year-old daughter. She faulted the prosecution, but she also faulted Zimmerman.
“They didn’t do a great job,” Sanders said. “Honestly, I’m not surprised by the verdict. I would have rather they did manslaughter than not guilty because I felt they did not prove second-degree murder because of the evidence in the case that they had to work with. But they at least could have proved manslaughter because the child was killed by actions set in place by Zimmerman, and just the fact that everybody keeps saying the same thing, he kept pursuing instead of going back to his car, waiting on the police, that right there is manslaughter because you initiated an altercation. If you would have let this child go, he probably would have still been walking. You could have let the people do their job and he would have still been here. But you wanted to go above and beyond what you were supposed to do as neighborhood watch, and I think that right there alone is a good plea for manslaughter. But I knew he wasn’t going to get second-degree murder from watching the case and the job that the State did. They didn’t do a very good job. But it is what it is. I’m just here to show support.”
“It may not have been a racial thing, but it was a profiling thing,” Sanders added, referring to Zimmerman. “He said fucking punks, he didn’t say this fucking nigger, you know, or whatever like that, but I was just, right or wrong, that’s what I’m here for, and I just felt like it could have all been avoided, and it didn’t have to happen. But everything does happen for a reason.”
Dewayne Jenkins again and again would bring the discussion away from any racial suggestions, assuring his listeners that if roles had been reversed, if a white boy had been killed by a black man, he’d have been just as upset. And he did not want the march to be seen as anything more than a marker on Martin’s behalf.
Still, he had his own anxieties about the outcome.
“Every time we get close to end racism, or dying down, not erase it, something like this happens,” Jenkins said. “And that plants seeds in other people’s heads who are already on the border.” Jenkins said he’s not worried for himself. He doesn’t consider matters of race to be part of the way he sees the world. And he believes that racism can and will be eradicated.
But another man in the crowd wasn’t so sure. He told Jenkins he was “right there with you,” but then, quite recently, he was driving home to Palm Coast through Daytona Beach, he was pulled over by Daytona Beach cops, was never given a reason—the man is black—and was soon surrounded by four cruisers before the first cop got out and asked him if they could search his car. Which they proceeded to do the next two and a half hours before letting the man go. Still without explanation. It’s illegal to pull anyone over without probable cause. But it happens all the time. Most people don’t fight it. Many, blacks especially, know that if they do, they could be in for worse trouble, starting with a much longer detention.
Jenkins likes to think that things are different now in Bunnell.
After Jenkins sent word of the march on Facebook, a Bunnell cop showed up at his door—not to hassle him, but to offer the department’s support, and ask if the police could do anything for him or the marchers. He was grateful. Sunday afternoon, as people gathered on Bacher Street, two cop cars were parked a block away, and one briefly drove down Bacher, turned around, its officer waving at the small group, and drove off. By the time the march began, most of the iced tea and Skittles had been consumed. The small group walked, chanted, urged people sitting on their porches to join in. Some did. Most didn’t, preferring instead to wave their support. And a little after 3 p.m., the group had faded into the gray afternoon.