Law & Order
9:54 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

As Zimmerman Verdict Looms, Case Resonates in Tampa Bay

As you probably know by now, George Zimmerman is the neighborhood watch volunteer accused of murder in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager. Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self-defense.

But whether the jury ends up siding with prosecutors or Zimmerman's defense lawyers, plenty of Floridians will disagree with the verdict. We look at how some in Tampa Bay are responding to the case.

 

Orlando Davis is program director and morning show host for Wild 94.1 FM.

Last year after George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, Davis got permission from his general manager to break format and have a longer discussion about Martin's death. The station stopped the music and moved commercials to accommodate the conversation.

"We did a nice three-hour forum with the Hillsborough prosecutor Felix Vega, with [Tampa Bay Times media critic] Eric Deggans, with a psychologist who came in and talked about the emotional side of dealing with this, as far as a culture," Davis said. "And we took calls, and we really felt that it was important for us to get in front of it because we felt like Trayvon or people who are like Trayvon listen to our station."

Throughout the trial, Davis has discussed the case on air. He explains the legal proceedings to his listeners and encourages them to call in. He knows the dialogue might sound different on other stations.

"You hear people on different talk venues -- when these things happen, 'they' riot. And 'they' come through and tear up the community. The proverbial 'they' they're referring to is me on many different levels," Davis said. "I'm a black young man, and I'm also a hip-hop head. So I could be any one of those 'theys,' and I've never rioted, nor will I."

Just in case some folks don't take Davis' approach, the City of Sarasota plans to be prepared. On Thursday morning, the police department held a press conference announcing that it's working on a response plan in anticipation of the Zimmerman verdict. Police Chief Bernadette DiPino stood flanked by the president of the Sarasota NAACP and other community leaders.

Across the bay in St. Petersburg, race riots erupted back in 1996 after a white police officer shot and killed a black teenager during a traffic stop.

Still, the city's police department said it has no special plans for the Zimmerman verdict. Department spokesman Bill Proffitt called such questions "race-baiting journalism" and said it was "insulting to our community" to suggest violence could occur.

As for Davis at the radio station, when the verdict is announced, he might discuss it on air but, "I don't think we're going to pack up and go to Sanford," he said.

One group that is planning to pack up and go to Sanford is the St. Petersburg chapter of the Uhuru movement.

"We fight for the Democratic rights of African people -- black people as many of us call ourselves -- and we want to expose what we call the counterinsurgency war against black people," said Chimurenga Waller, the organization's secretary.

The group's office is in the Midtown neighborhood of South St. Petersburg,  a community with a history of racial tension. Members have been canvassing the neighborhood with fliers advertising a demonstration Friday at the Seminole County Courthouse.

Waller has a prediction for the verdict: "I think he's going to be found not guilty," Waller said.

Would the demonstration go forward if the Uhurus were predicting a verdict of not guilty?

"Probably, because I don't believe the justice system has the ability to give Trayvon Martin justice," Waller said. "It can't because it has historically been an enemy of black people."

Back at Wild 94.1, Davis is taking a different approach. Earlier this week, he urged listeners to follow his lead when the verdict is announced.

"I said, 'If you listen to me and my vote counts, I would ask that you wouldn't partake in any of that unrest because it's just unsafe and it kind of builds up the stereotypes that the proverbial 'they' refer to," Davis said.

With emotions running high as the verdict looms, perhaps the response is to follow the advice of the trending Twitter hashtag: #KeepCalmForTrayvon.