SANFORD, Fla. — The white-haired old man waded into the crowd that was shouting “Justice for Trayvon!” in the shade of the courthouse in Sanford, Fla., Saturday, smiling as he murmured, “George Zimmerman is an innocent man.”
Terrie Ann Campbell, 38, who works for the school district in Orlando, Fla., looked on from a lawn chair on the courthouse lawn where she had propped up her “Justice 4 Trayvon” sign in the damp grass on what had already become a hot and humid day.
About 50 people gathered in the morning to protest as jurors deliberated the fate of Zimmerman, 29, a neighborhood watch volunteer who identifies himself as Latino and who is charged with second-degree murder in connection with the Feb. 26, 2012, fatal shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Zimmerman maintains he shot Martin in self-defense after Martin suddenly attacked him in a confrontation on that rainy night in Sanford.
“It was peaceful in the beginning, but it seems like there are certain people out here trying to provoke a reaction,” said Campbell, who is black and was hoping for a guilty verdict in the Zimmerman trial that has transfixed the nation.
As the six-woman jury continued their second day of deliberations Saturday, local authorities staffed the emergency operations center and sheriff’s deputies lingered at the edge of the courthouse lawn, where metal barricades had been erected.
“Shouting at each other — it’s not going to do anything,” Campbell said.
As the white-haired man made his way through the crowd, a chorus of angry voices trailed him.
“Zimmerman’s a killer!”
“He’s a murderer!”
“You’re a racist!”
Eventually, half a dozen protesters surrounded the man with signs, chanting. One of the young women wore a T-shirt that said, “What if it were your son?” They talked about the O.J. Simpson case, one holding a sign that said, “The glove don’t fit.”
They tried to convince the white-haired man that he was wrong, but the man just shook his head.
“He has a right to self-defense,” he said of Zimmerman.
Tempers flared. Voices rose. But no one came to blows.
In the end, the old man walked away to talk to more Martin supporters, including a young black man wearing a T-shirt with Zimmerman’s face in the cross-hairs.
Across the barricade, a few Zimmerman supporters held signs that said “Not guilty” and “Free George.” They did not tangle much with the other group.
The white-haired man, Casey Kole, who is white, wanted to talk to the other side.
Kole, 66, a retired oil executive and chauffeur from Orlando, described himself as “the silent majority type.” A conservative and a Navy veteran, he insisted he’s not racist. Like many across the country, he watched the trial on television. Watching, he came to believe Zimmerman, 29, a neighborhood watch volunteer, was in the right when he shot the unarmed teen.
“He’s a man who’s patrolling an area without being paid, an area that had had a number of burglaries,” Kole said. “I don’t think the prosecution offered any evidence that he’s guilty.”
Kole said he’s not worried about clashes in the streets after the jury issues its verdict, he said.
“I would expect law enforcement would make sure there is peace,” he said. “That’s why it’s remarkable that you see me on this side, the opposition side, and there’s no confrontation. We can disagree. We can do it in a courteous manner. That’s the great benefit of this country — we don’t resort to mob violence.”
Cynthia Bradford, of Syracuse, N.Y., was among the crowd and said her nephew, 13-year-old Jerell Montgomery, was killed 19 years ago at Syracuse University. “It’s not about black or white, she said. “This type of killings has to stop.”
Nearby, Army veteran Tatiandra Taylor, of Orlando, was calling for free speech. “They want us to take down our signs,” she said. “They should do it themselves.”
Laurie Isom, 38, a stay-at-home mom, brought her two children to the protest, ages 9 and 3. They all held signs and chanted. Last year, they marched through downtown Sanford to demand that Zimmerman be charged, as he eventually was — not by local police, but by a special prosecutor appointed by the governor.
Isom, who is white, grew up in Sanford, and said the case has not divided the town along racial lines. But she wished it had united the town more.
“Our town is pretty shaken, but I believe justice will be served,” she said as television camera operators recorded the crowd and news helicopters buzzed overhead. “Regardless of how the verdict will go, people will be peaceful. They’re saying it’s going to be an L.A. riot but I don’t believe that. If I did, I wouldn’t have my kids out here.”
Los Angeles Times photographer Carolyn Cole in Sanford, Fla., contributed to this report.
Distributed by MCT Information Services