SANFORD, Fla. — As the jury began deliberating in the murder trial of George Zimmerman, the local police chief and sheriff called for calm, noting that while the case has raising emotionally charged questions about racial profiling and community policing, this central Florida town remains united.
Zimmerman, 29, who has a mixed ethnic background but has been identified as white, has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teenager. It was not clear late Friday afternoon how long the jury would deliberate, or whether they plan to work through the night and weekend, a court spokeswoman said.
Eslinger spoke first to reporters gathered in a vacant courtroom, including the Los Angeles Times.
“The lives of two families have forever been altered and our hearts and prayers go out to both,” he said, noting that local authorities “want to ensure the proceedings are carried out without interruption.”
As sheriff’s deputies gathered near the front of the criminal justice center, the sheriff appeared to be addressing an unspoken fear: A verdict could bring unrest, rioting or looting.
“We may not agree with this verdict, but as communities within this country, we respect the rule of law,” he said. “While this case has brought a great deal of emotion, there’s no tension in Seminole County.
“There’s no party in this case that wants to see any violence.
“We encourage businesses not to disrupt operations. We encourage all residents to live their lives normally. We will not tolerate anyone who uses this verdict as an excuse to violate the law,” he said.
Chief Smith noted that after Martin’s shooting on Feb. 26, 2012, the Justice Department launched an inquiry, the police department was overhauled (resulting in the ouster of the former chief, who is white) and officers held community meetings, working with pastors to improve their relationship with the town.
“As we await this verdict, we would like to remind everyone that the city of Sanford has been a peaceful location for the past 17 months and it remains a peaceful location,” Smith said. “It’s a trying time for all of us.”