MIAMI – With the murder trial for George Zimmerman, accused of killing Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford in 2012, due to begin in just over two months in Seminole County, officials in Miami-Dade County are preparing for possible trouble in the event that a not-guilty verdict is handed down.
As part of the preparation, the Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board (CRB) and Miami-Dade Youth Commission hosted a youth summit March 28 to “promote non-violence.”
Held in the chambers of the Miami-Dade Commission in the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in downtown Miami, the meeting’s goal was “taking action to empower and protect our youth and our community in response to the Trayvon Martin court case.”
The organizers scree-ned news footage of the 1980 upheaval that greeted the not-guilty verdicts handed down in a Tampa courtroom against four county police officers
accused of manslaughter and evidence tampering following the beating death of Arthur McDuffie.
“We don’t need Miami rioting regardless of the outcome of this trial,” said the Rev. Dr. Walter Richardson, chairman of the CRB. He co-chaired the meeting with Jude Bruno, chairman of the Youth Commission.
Attorney Ed Shohat, a panelist along with Richardson and Bruno and other members of the Youth Commission, discussed judicial proceedings in a criminal trial. He said the primary focus of the criminal justice system is protection of law-abiding citizens.
“We’d rather have the guilty go free than the innocent go to prison,” Shohat said.
County Commissioner Xavier Saurez said rumor control is paramount and he encouraged the community to “get accurate facts” about the trial, set to begin on June 10, and its outcome.
Suarez, a former mayor of Miami, acknowledged that “there’s always a level of community unrest and dissatisfaction” but added that many of the causes, such as high youth unemployment among African Americans, can be addressed through Miami-Dade’s financial resources which include a $6.2 billion annual capital operating budget.
Delma Noel-Pratt, chief of the Miami-Dade Police Department’s North Operations Division, said her department’s action plan includes an “Incident Management Team.”
The Miami-Dade Police Department has been communicating with counterparts in Seminole County, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, she said. The “interdepartmental exchange of information” has included discussions about strategies and tactics and has led to officials in Seminole County creating their own Community Relations Board.
The county police action plan has involved training sessions and identifying “areas of concern” or potential areas of protest, Noel-Pratt said.
The department, she said, is most concerned about both North Miami-Dade and South Miami-Dade but, she added, “we can’t really narrow down or identify one particular place so the Plan of Action is for both ends of the county.”
That means, she said, that there will be command posts in both the northern and southern ends of the county, with a “visible” presence of uniformed officers, as well as an unspecified number of “undercover officers.”
Noel-Pratt said the main purpose for and guiding principle of her department’s planning related to the Zimmerman trial “is to have peace.”
“We’re hoping that, no matter the verdict, there will be peace,” she said.
Nannette Badger, a Miami-Dade County Public Schools officer, said her agency’s planning includes the fact that schools will be on vacation when the trial starts June 10 so no student demonstrations are anticipated.
Lina Rojas of the Youth Commission had a plea to law enforcement agencies as they plan for the aftermath of the trial and call for peace. “We ask that the police lead by example,” Rojas said, adding that many times the line between peace and heavy-handedness “gets blurred.”
Noel-Pratt responded by emphasizing that the Miami-Dade Police Department’s action plan puts priority on “interpersonal skills.”
Shohat said the summit’s purpose was to promote nonviolence, “not to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
To achieve that, Richardson said, it is vital that the community “help us get the word out (about)an action plan that will inform.”