Sanford's Racial Issues Run Deep

Sanford's Racial Issues Run Deep

Veronica Byrd returned to her hometown to cover the Zimmerman trial and found that while much had changed, plenty has stayed the same

Veronica Byrd

by Veronica Byrd, August 19, 2013

Sanford's Racial Issues Run Deep

Sanford, FL Courthouse

The city of Sanford (population 54,000) is mostly known for the Auto Train, a service operated by Amtrak that transports passengers and their cars, vans, SUVs and motorcycles between Lorton, Va., and Sanford, which is located about 30 miles north of Orlando. The city is quaint and quiet and seemingly frozen in time, like a faded postcard, where downtown buildings no higher than six stories line a cobblestoned main street bordered by cafés and antique shops. It is not unusual to see confederate flags waving in front lawns; the Klu Klux Klan has an active chapter in Central Florida. But until last year, most people around the country had never heard of Sanford.

Trayvon Martin’s killing brought a nationwide focus to what some residents have described as years of mistrust and mistreatment of the Black community by various institutions. “We can’t depend on the system to protect our children,” says Francis Oliver, a longtime Sanford resident, curator of the city’s Goldsboro Historical Museum and someone who believes George Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict has larger implications concerning the town’s Black community. She was outraged by the verdict, but not surprised.

In 2010, Justin Collison, the White son of a Sanford police lieutenant, walked up behind a homeless Black man standing outside of a bar and sucker punched him in the head for no reason. The attack was caught on video. Collison, who turned himself in a month later, received probation. Five years earlier, a White police officer repeatedly punched a Black man who was on the ground in handcuffs after police used a Taser on him during an arrest. The officer was fired—and then rehired.

For more, check out the September 2013 issue of EBONY.

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