Death threats and a $10,000 bounty offered for a citizen’s arrest of George Zimmerman have raised concerns about the threat of “vigilante justice” in the racially charged case.
A group identifying itself as the New Black Panther Party is offering $10,000 to anyone who makes a citizen’s arrest of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin slaying.
The reward, and an earlier spate of death threats, also raise questions about whether law enforcement is taking steps to protect Zimmerman and his family.
Neither the Sanford Police Department nor the Florida State Attorney’s office would discuss Zimmerman’s whereabouts on Tuesday, citing the ongoing investigation.
But the Sanford law enforcement agency issued a recent press release “requesting calm heads and no vigilante justice.”
“The City of Sanford does not condone the actions and recommendations of the New Black Panther Party,” the police department said in a response statement. “Attempts by civilians to take any person into custody may result in criminal charges or unnecessary violence.”
Zimmerman and his family have been driven into hiding in the wake of the Feb. 26 fatal shooting of Martin in Sanford, Fla. The unarmed 17-year-old was returning from a convenience store after buying candy and an iced tea when he crossed paths with Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watch captain armed with a 9-millimeter weapon.
What happened next is the subject of several local, state and federal probes and has led to national outrage and allegations of racism. Martin’s family believe Zimmerman wrongly followed the teen and provoked the deady encounter. Zimmerman meanwhile, claims he fired in self defense.
The fury over the racially charged case has even led President Obama to weigh in.
Tensions ratcheted up over the weekend when a group identifying itself as the New Black Panther Party “called for the mobilization of 10,000 black men to capture Zimmerman” and offered the bounty.
The Orlando Sentinel, which reported on the bounty, said leaders were making statements such as “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
Little is known about the group identifying itself as the New Black Panther Party. It has held several protests -- see video above -- in and around Sanford, Fla.
Leaders of the group also told the Orlando Sentinel that the group has the backing of prominent black athletes and entertainers, and is in the process of raising $1 million for its causes, but declined to offer details about its work.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, says on its website that the New Black Panther Party was founded in 1989. The group is “virulently racist,” advocating violence against whites, Jews and law enforcement.
The group appears to have borrowed its name from the black power movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, co-founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. But BlackPanther.org, which is maintained by the Huey P. Newton Foundation and dedicated to fostering Newton’s memory, posted an alert on its website distancing itself from the group.
“There is no New Black Panther Party,” the site says, denouncing the group as exploiting the Black Panther name and heritage and saying they are “trying to incite hatred rather than resolve it.”