Sanford Still Suffers from Social Stigma
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Tags: Sanford, Sanford Police Department, social stigma, Today, Trayvon Martin
When the Trayvon Martin tragedy happened, thousands descended on Sanford in support of Trayvon, his family and justice. The entire nation tuned in, ready to join the conversation in our greater quest for justice and understanding. I was a candidate for Mayor of Orlando at the time, and I picked up the phone and was one of the few who spoke directly to then-Chief Bill Lee. I urged him to arrest George Zimmerman and discussed details of what happened. It was even highlighted in one of the three Orlando mayoral debates.
However, as the trial of Zimmerman goes on, the conversation on the larger underlying issues behind it all seems to have quieted.
This week two Seminole deputies were fired for their actions during a recent traffic stop. Christopher Clutter and Erik Ducharme stopped two men driving in Sanford back on May 19 because they weren’t wearing seat belts. What would happen next is beyond criminal. The officers called for backup, used profanities at the driver, drew their weapons including a shotgun, used a taser and lied on official reports while not using a required microphone on the stop. All for not wearing a seat belt?
Both men stopped by the police appear to be black in police video. This is completely unacceptable. One reason these lying officers were fired was because the dash camera caught all the acts. It’s almost unimaginable to see it happen in 2012.
The reality is this is not a Trayvon Martin issue, or a traffic stop issue. This is more than a public safety issue. Sanford is suffering from a social stigma and no one wants to admit it, discuss it, examine it or even try to solve it. We are naïve to believe that Sanford’s ills do not impact Orlando and our greater Central Florida community.
These incidents are sadly not new to residents. Even before Trayvon Martin, there were complaints that police went easy on an officer’s son who beat a black homeless man and that police pull over black kids for wearing certain colors because they suspect gang activity. The same department was criticized for delaying the arrest of two security guards who shot a 16-year-old teen to death in 2005. The guards had close ties to the office and were eventually cleared after being arrested several months after the shooting. Trust and confidence have been damaged for many years.
When I spoke to Bill Lee earlier this year, I knew he wanted an arrest in the Trayvon Martin shooting. He told me what happened was “morally reprehensible.” He said he did everything he could to make an arrest, but the state attorney and others did not. Then the way Bill Lee left the force without a fight made me sense there was more to the story. Now we see more inexcusable police behavior coming out of the area, raising questions about institutional stigmas. And we no longer see a community working together to figure this out in the open.
This is not just a “Sanford issue.” Current efforts are simply not meeting the seriousness of the issues at hand.
We must bridge the gap that we are suffering from and we must repair the trust and confidence the community deserves. That will only happen by truly heeding the words and calls for a real community dialogue after the Trayvon Martin tragedy. There must be verifiable results and progress in a transparent, open and inclusive process. This should include elected officials and law enforcement leaders and community members from Sanford, Orlando, and the surrounding counties. And we need our leaders to go on the record and be accountable for community needs and concerns.
We need to take immediate steps to stop this unnecessary tragic cycle from happening again and again. Leadership must involve action. We will get results if we act together, as one community, to address this issue once and for all.