SANFORD, Fla. — Nearly 70 years after Jackie Robinson was run out of town, Sanford is absorbing what some see as another blow to race relations: the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Some black residents of this community of almost 50,000 people where the shooting took place say that while relations between black and white have improved over the years, progress has been slow and the Martin case demonstrated that problems persist.
James Tillman, who is black, said Saturday’s verdict just adds to his mistrust of local authorities, who have been criticized over the years for their handling of other crimes against blacks. Tillman, 47, said city officials try to portray Sanford as a “quiet and laid-back town.”
“This town here is one of the worst towns about covering things up,” Tillman said, stopping his bike in front of a memorial to the 17-year-old Martin. “When you put something in the closet, it’s going to burst back on you.”
Sanford, a mostly middle-class suburb of Orlando, about 25 miles away, has reacted somberly — and peacefully — to the verdict. The city was mostly silent the morning after the verdict, in contrast to the rallies that drew thousands not long after the shooting.
Only a few people went past the permanent memorial built in the city’s historically black Goldsboro neighborhood to honor the Miami teen.
Standing in front of the memorial, Venitta Robinson, the minister at Allen Chapel, said she hopes the black community doesn’t dwell on the verdict.
“It’s a little disheartening, but that was the process we go through as far as having a jury, and that’s the verdict that they had, and we have to respect that,” said Robinson, who is black. “We don’t necessarily have to like it, but we have to respect it.”