As tensions between community leaders and residents in Sanford, Fla., reach a boiling point, the man leading the investigation into the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is being asked to step down.
During a heated special meeting regarding the death of the unarmed teen, who was allegedly shot and killed by self-appointed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, Sanford city commissioners conducted a vote of “no confidence” against embattled Police Chief Billy Lee. Three of five commissioners voted against the chief.
One commissioner demanded that Lee resign. It is now up to the city manager to decide whether or not to let Lee go.
“The unknown in a tragedy will make the heart do crazy things, and we haven’t done a good job of getting out in front of that,” said Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett after the vote. “I have confidence in him in a lot of ways, and don’t have confidence in him in some ways.”
The vote of “no confidence” came after Triplett was forced to answer some tough questions from neighborhood residents and the media, during an NAACP meeting aimed at addressing allegations of police misconduct in the community.
“If there were mistakes made we are going to act accordingly,” Triplett said in response to a question from ABC News about the investigation into Martin’s death. Some believe local authorities botched the investigation from the start.
Martin, who was black, was carrying only a bag of skittles, ice tea and his cell phone, when Zimmerman allegedly killed him on Feb. 26. While Martin’s family has repeatedly called for his arrest, Sanford Police accepted and stand by Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense.
But it’s not just the mayor, or the conduct of the police officers, that is being questioned.
Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law gives enormous leeway to people like Zimmerman to use deadly force if they feel threatened. Since the law was enacted seven years ago, justified homicides in Florida have jumped threefold, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Twenty states have similar laws, but Florida’s is widely viewed as having the broadest application. Courts across the state have been trying to figure out how to grapple with the legislation and the Martin incident is one of several examples that have stirred controversy.
In another ongoing trial, lawyers for Trevor Dooley are using the law to defend him in the death of his neighbor David James. In 2010, Dooley shot James in front of his 8-year-old daughter after witnesses say the two men got into an altercation on a basketball court in Valrico, Fla., when James tried to prevent Dooley from shooing away a teenage skateboarder using the court to practice tricks.
Dooley’s attorneys argue that he is protected by Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law and that he shot James in self defense. They argue that mundane neighbor disputes can turn violent.
Cases like this and Martin’s have led Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, one of the original sponsors of the law, to say that it has been misused. “There was nothing in this statute ever intended to protect somebody who was pursuing or confronting other people,” said Baxley. The U.S. Attorney in Central Florida and officials from the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division will be meeting Thursday with Martin family as they investigate the case.
Attorneys in the justice department are likely looking into whether or not Martin’s rights were deprived by Zimmerman during the altercation that led to the teen’s death. They are also looking into whether he was the victim of a hate crime.
Their inquiry continues as the Martin case continues to transfix the nation. Social media exploded this week with over the case, catapulting the incident into the national spot light. A single petition calling for his killer’s arrest had around 800,000 signatures and was the fastest growing petition in Internet history, according to Change.org.
For nearly three weeks, the story had languished, as did the Change.org petition set up for Martin’s parents Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. It sat with just a few thousand signatures, but towards the end of last week, as ABC News and other media began intensifying their coverage, and celebrities tweeted about the story, interest soared.
A host of celebrities from hip hop icon and entrepreneur Russell Simmons to new age leader Deepak Chopra to director Spike Lee have written and tweeted, calling for justice for Martin. Black radio and television hosts have also buoyed the story, calling on authorities to act.
The Martin family took their fight to the streets of New York City Wednesday night as they linked with around 2,000 protestors who marched through Manhattan, demanding justice for the slain 17-year-old.
“We will not go politely in the night,” said the teen’s father Tracy Martin. “We will tell people in Florida that we are not alone.”