Sanford residents spoke with representatives from the NAACP - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Sanford residents spoke with representatives from the NAACP about interactions with police officers

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    For the first time since that fateful night on February 26, the father of a neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed an unarmed teenager sat down for a television interview.
    For the first time since that fateful night on February 26, the father of a neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed an unarmed teenager sat down for a television interview.

Dozens attended a meeting in Sanford on Wednesday, hosted by the NAACP.  Topics for discussion included the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the teen shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer, and past interactions which residents have had with the city's police department.

National and local representatives with the NAACP took notes as people shared tales of what they described as negligence and lack of respect from law enforcement.  The NAACP collected the stories which will be handed over the U.S. Department of Justice.

Belle Cox said her nephew was shot and killed during an armed robbery as he held his 8-month-old child in his arms. "When my nephew was shot in the chest, he had the baby right here and it went right by the baby's head," she said.

It has been nearly two years since the incident happened, and she said the killer has not yet been identified. "They'll give us a response, 'We're close to an arrest' ... that's all we ever get."

"Whether black or white, treat everybody fairly," said one person.

Mayor Jeff Triplett was also in attendance and was invited to talk about his recent trip to the nation's capital where he met with officials from the Justice Department.  He admitted that he had concerns, but was firm when someone in the audience asked why the police chief had not been fired.

"When the facts come in," he said, "if we've done something wrong, whether it be tomorrow or two weeks from now, or a month from now, I'm going to act accordingly."

Later in the evening, Sanford city commissioners voted "no confidence" in police Chief Bill Lee Jr; however, commissioners can't fire Lee, because he reports to the city manager, Norton Bonaparte Jr. 

Lee was hired as chief in May 2011.

Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman has not been detained or charged in connection with the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.  He claims he was acting in self-defense.

The incident has sparked a heated debate about racism and law enforcement, as well as discussions about a Florida law that eliminates the need for individuals to retreat when attacked.

Zimmerman's father, Robert Zimmerman, sent a letter to the Orlando Sentinel last week defending his son.

"The portrayal of George Zimmerman in the media, as well as the series of events that led to the tragic shooting are false and extremely misleading," Robert Zimmerman wrote. "George is a Spanish speaking minority with many black family members and friends. He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever."

Appearing on national television on Wednesday morning, Martin's parents called for Zimmerman's arrest.

The teen's father, Tracy Martin, told NBC's "Today" show, "I strongly feel that he [Zimmerman] needs to be arrested because a crime was committed. My son was murdered ... my son is not with us no more -- nothing can bring him back."

The teen's mom, Sybrina Fulton, urged police to "use the evidence that they have" and arrest Zimmerman.

"I just hurt in my heart because this guy has not been arrested, and I just feel like the Sanford Police Department ... decided to be judge and jury. I just want this guy arrested so he can be bought to justice," Fulton said.

As of Wednesday at 4 p.m., over 850,000 people had signed a petition on Change.org posted by Martin's parents that calls for Zimmerman's arrest.

Seminole-Brevard state attorney Norm Wolfinger announced Tuesday that a grand jury will be convened April 10 to investigate the fatal shooting.  The FBI also is investigating Martin's death, the Department of Justice said in a statement Monday.

Zimmerman has previously been in trouble over violent incidents.

He was arrested in 2005 for shoving a state alcohol agent after his friend was arrested on suspicion of serving alcohol to underage drinkers, the Sentinel reported.

Zimmerman and his unidentified ex-fiancee each had protective injunctions filed against one another in 2005 due to their violent relationship.

A judge ultimately ordered both injunctions to be enforced, and court records show they each expired on Aug. 24, 2006, the Sentinel reported.

 In light of the national outcry over George Zimmerman's alleged actions the night 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed, the leader of a neighborhood watch group in Seminole County wants residents to know that their job is not to enforce the law, but rather to be the eyes and ears for police.

"We're not to approach any suspect, in fact it could by unsafe," said Marvin Kaplan of the Orange Grove Park Neighborhood Watch in Casselberry.

As neighborhood watch coordinator of the Orange Grove Park subdivision for the past six years, Kaplan knows the duties of the job.

"We're not allowed to confront anybody, no matter how well trained you are, I have a lot of training and I can shoot as well as anyone but we don't carry weapons," Kaplan said.

Kaplan says George Zimmerman, who Sanford police

confirm was the neighborhood watch coordinator in the gated community, was completely out of line for allegedly carrying a weapon and not following orders of 911 operators -- the complete opposite of what neighborhood watch teaches its members.

"Rule number one you never carry a weapon, we are strictly observe and report, the eyes and ears of the sheriff's office here in Seminole county," Kaplan said.

As the Trayvon Martin case gains momentum, Kaplan wants communities to know that neighborhood watch groups are about helping residents, not hurting them.

"Neighborhood watch is not a violent organization, does not promote carrying weapons as part of neighborhood watch duties," Kaplan said.

The Sanford Police Department says Zimmerman was chosen to be Neighborhood Watch Coordinator by the HOA at the Retreat at Twin Lakes Community and the watch group received training from Sanford officers, Kaplan says that's why it's critical for members to follow the orders of law enforcement.

"The dispatcher will tell us what we need to do stay in the area or back away depends how dangerous it is, we don't obviously want to be killed that's why we don't need to carry a weapon because you're always directed by the police what to do," Kaplan said.

The Sanford Police Department says they held an informational start-up meeting for the neighborhood watch group that Zimmerman a part of in December of 2011, where they gave about 30 people information regarding the "do's and dont's" of being a part of the neighborhood watch.

 A lawmaker from South Florida is readying legislation to retool the controversial statute known as the Stand Your Ground law, saying he is alarmed by the shooting death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin and the relative ease with which the alleged shooting suspect has shielded himself claiming self-defense.

Senator Chris Smith, D-Ft. Lauderdale, announced his intentions on Wednesday and described the law as a "double edged sword."

He said the law, "appears to be giving suspects better protections from arrest and prosecution than increased security measures for the citizens the law was originally intended to protect. This needs to be dramatically changed."

Sen. Smith, who opposed the measure in 2005, was the House Democratic Leader when the NRA-backed measure first passed the Legislature. He is seeking to limit the reach of the law in two ways. First, he said he wants to limit the ability to use lethal force to immediate personal habitat areas such as home, car, or place of work. Secondly, in the event deadly force must be used in a public area, the response cannot be as a result of self-provocation.

"We can't keep turning a blind eye to the number of lives this law has claimed," said Sen. Smith in a statement sent to FOX 35.

He noted in the news release that, since the law's passage, deaths due to self-defense have jumped over 250 percent. 
 

Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martinparents of Trayvon Martin, have marched in his memory in New York City with hundreds of other people.

Demonstrators chanted "we want arrests" during Wednesday night's Million Hoodie March in Manhattan's Union Square.

The teen was shot to death after buying candy at a convenience store.  He was unarmed and wearing a hoodie at the time.

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