Move comes nine years after killing there of Trayvon Martin
BY MARTIN E. COMAS
ORLANDO – Sanford commissioners have agreed to form an advisory committee that will study how race, class and gender can lead to social inequities, in the city where Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in 2012, eventually giving rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The panel “will be charged with taking a look at racial tension within the city and how the disparities in services, public and private, impact people of color more than they do their White counterparts,” said Andrew Thomas, Sanford’s community relations and neighborhood engagement director, at a recent commission meeting.
Named the “Race, Equality, Equity and Inclusion” group, the 15-member panel will be made up of residents, people who work in Sanford and business owners appointed by commissioners and Sanford’s city manager.
The group will deliver a report to the city commission in about eight months detailing its findings and recommendations on improving inequities that may exist in Sanford, including within governmental services related to housing, healthcare, education, criminal justice and employment.
“The city of Sanford recognizes racism and social inequities unfairly disadvantages specific individuals and communities and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources,” according to a resolution approved unanimously by commissioners Feb. 22.
“The collective prosperity of the City depends upon the equitable access to opportunity for every resident regardless of the color of their skin or social status.”
The idea for the committee took root after Vince Taylor, a local community organizer, laid out plans last June to paint a large Black Lives Matter mural on the pavement of historic Goldsboro Boulevard in front of Sanford’s public safety complex, which houses the police department.
Taylor wanted the mural to draw attention to the May death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, which sparked nationwide protests, and to bring visitors into the historic Black community of Goldsboro. Similar murals were painted on Rosalind Avenue near Lake Eola in downtown Orlando and on major streets across the country.
“It was intended on drawing people from outside of Goldsboro, so that they would come in and spend money by hopefully eating at restaurants and visiting the museum,” Taylor said. “Our goal was to say, ‘While you’re here to take a selfie in front the mural, why don’t you get a bite to eat at one of the restaurants?’”
But city leaders turned down Taylor’s request after some residents expressed fear that having such a large mural in front of the Public Safety Complex could re-ignite long tensions between Black residents and Sanford police.
Instead, city officials proposed displaying it on Sanford’s Riverwalk pathway in the city’s downtown district.
Taylor refused and called it “counterintuitive,” pointing out that Sanford has spent millions renovating and improving the city’s downtown district and Riverwalk in recent years. But it is not spending enough, he said, to improve the city’s historic Black communities of Goldsboro and Georgetown.
Several meetings last year with members of Black Lives Matter and Goldsboro residents prompted Sanford leaders to form the new committee. Taylor, who lives near Apopka, said he would be open to joining the group.
Sanford has had a long history of racial tensions among its Black residents, Police Department and City Hall in the 125-year-old town. About a third of the city’s 60,000 residents are Black.
Those tensions were inflamed after Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old from South Florida who was staying with his father in Sanford, was shot to death during a struggle with George Zimmerman on Feb. 26, 2012.
Weeks of protests erupted in Sanford after Zimmerman wasn’t initially arrested in the shooting, with police citing his claim of self-defense. Sanford’s police chief was fired amid the furor. Zimmerman was later charged by a special prosecutor but acquitted at a jury trial the following year.
Many say that Sanford has made strides in addressing racial disparities and inequalities over the past nine years. Today, two members of Sanford’s city commission are Black. So are the city’s police chief and city manager.
Also, Sanford formed in 2012 its Blue Ribbon Panel, a 23-member group whose recommendations a year later led to police officers building closer relationships with residents.
But more work needs to be done to improve racial inequities, said Pasha Baker, a Sanford native and director and CEO of the Goldsboro West Side Community Historical Association.
She wants to see “more action” rather than another committee formed, which she speculated would likely issue the same recommendations as previous groups.
“It’s always a lot of talk and wasting of tax dollars,” Baker said. “We have had study, after study, after study. Enough talk. … We keep kicking the can down the road.”
Commissioner Sheena Britton, a Black resident who was selected by commissioners last June to fill the vacant District 1 seat, agreed that action is needed, rather than just talk.
“It’s really important that we have a board like this,” said Britton, who voted in favor of forming the committee. “But I want to make sure that it leads to something being implemented. That it leads to some change. … But I believe that there has been progress made in Sanford. We are getting better. We are looking at things differently.”
Thomas said it’s important for a city such as Sanford with a large minority population to discuss race.
Otherwise “we don’t look at it again until something happens,” he said. “And then when something happens, then that’s a tipping point. Then we have the protests, the riots. And then we say: ‘What can we do? What can we do?’”
Each city commissioner and the mayor will select one person from a pool of applicants to serve on the committee. And City Manager Norton Bonaparte will then select the remaining 10 members.
The city will provide the committee with up to $35,000 to pay for technical assistance, conducting surveys and other costs. The group will work with the National League of Cities’ Race, Equity and Leadership program, and the Peace and Justice Institute at Valencia College.