Marc Whiteman reported for WUFT-TV.
A year ago Tuesday, Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman, a self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman, in Sanford. Martin died, and a national conversation shifted to self-defense policy, neighborhood watches and racial tensions.
To mark the anniversary of Martin’s death, local activist groups are making sure issues such as racial injustice and the “stand your ground” defense law stay at the forefront of public conversation. The Stand Your Ground law allows people who feel threatened to respond with force, including gunfire.
Tuesday night from 4 to 6 p.m., the University of Florida Dream Defenders will host a remembrance event at the Institute of Black Culture at 1510 W. University Ave. The club was founded a year ago when students marched in Sanford in response to the shooting. Now, the activists say they’re focused on challenging inequalities.
“We hope that students maintain the level of race (consciousness) they have had for the last year,” said Chrisley Carpio, a UF Dream Defenders spokeswoman.
Also on Tuesday, at 6:30 p.m., UF’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society will host a rally in Bo Diddley Plaza, SDS member Michela Martinazzi said, “to share feelings and emotions… We want to move forward, not to stay in the past.”
The club is using the anniversary of Martin’s death to educate people on the “stand your ground” policies and the timeline of events that led to Martin’s shooting.
By talking to the historically black Porters community, east Gainesville residents and downtown businesses, 20-year-old Martinazzi hopes there will be a “melting pot of opinions” at the event.
SDS chapters at Florida State University, University of South Florida and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University are also holding events in solidarity.
About 20 Alachua County neighborhoods have neighborhood watches, said Cary Gallop, an Alachua County Sheriff’s Office crime prevention deputy. The purpose of a watch, he said, is to provide extra eyes and ears to the police. A watch is not vigilante law enforcement.
To establish a crime watch, the neighborhood watch must have three meetings with Gallop within a year. After that initial year, the meetings are only required to be annual.
Since the shooting, Gallop has been trying to define participation level and address racial issues.
In response, he stresses encouraging the entire neighborhood to take part in the watch, but not to get directly involved when they see suspicious activity. That’s the time to call in a law enforcement officer.
“We don’t want to see a loss of life,” Gallop said.
A 9:30 a.m. burglary in his Meadowbrook neighborhood in Gainesville compelled Steve Garrahan to start a watch in his area. At the first meeting, some of the 200 neighbors who attended asked about carrying firearms. Garrahan dismissed this mentality.
“We don’t need guns,” he said. “We need communication.”