Sanford, Fla., passed a vote of no confidence in its police chief Wednesday as protests of the killing of black teenager Trayvon Martin spread north to New York City, where the slain youth’s parents joined a march demanding the killer’s arrest.
The city commission's no-confidence measure passed 3-2 after more than an hour of debate, the Los Angeles Times reported. Though it wasn't binding, the outcome underscored the anger pulsing through the Orlando suburb nearly a month after 17-year-old Martin’s death on Feb. 26. Most of that anger is focused on the failure of police to arrest the confessed killer George Zimmerman, 28, who has been described as both Latino and white.
City Commissioner Mark McCarty set the tone for the meeting by noting that he had called for Police Chief Bill Lee’s ouster 10 days earlier in a meeting with City Manager Norton N. Bonaparte Jr.
“I take no pleasure in publicly flogging our police chief. He’s a good man,” McCarty said.
McCarty blamed questions surrounding the case, and the shame cast upon the city, on police botching the investigation. The questions, he said, include whether police were too quick to accept Zimmerman’s self-defense claim, even though Martin was unarmed and witnesses described hearing someone wailing for help before a gunshot rang out.
City Commissioners Patty Mahany and Randy Jones opposed the no-confidence vote, saying the city needed to wait for the outcome of a grand jury inquiry scheduled for April 10 and a Department of Justice investigation. “A rush to judgment in any situation is wrong,” said Mahany, calling the motion a “knee-jerk reaction.”
Mayor Jeff Triplett said after the meeting that he voted against the chief over his management and communication, the Miami Herald reported. City Manager Bonaparte told reporters that he wouldn't make a decision about the chief's fate until he learns from an independent law enforcement agency what mistakes police might have made.
I've never thought the chief was a racist or anything. It's more of a lack of experience and a lack of leadership, said Commissioner Velma Williams, who advocated that the chief resign to quell tensions before a rally next week.
Only the city manager can fire Lee or ask for his resignation. But as speaker after speaker, black and white, took to the microphone to ask why Zimmerman hadn't been arrested, it was clear that Bonaparte faced unrelenting pressure.
The Rev. Al Sharpton was due to lead a rally in Sanford Thursday, and the city was planning for hundreds and possibly thousands of people at a special meeting Monday night on the case.
More than a dozen people spoke at the commission meeting, the overwhelming majority of them black residents complaining that the police are quick to arrest blacks while letting whites accused of similar offenses to go free.
Lee took over after the previous chief was forced out following an outcry over the beating of a black man in downtown Sanford by a white police officer’s son. The police didn't arrest the man, even though the beating was captured on video.