Bruno spoke after a Community Relations Board meeting this week that drew several hundred people to a Miami Gardens library auditorium, some of them wearing “Justice for Trayvon” T-shirts and many asking sharp-edged questions about the trial. Still, the overall theme was peace.
“Please, no violence. We don’t want any violence. None,” said Miriam Martin, one of Trayvon Martin’s aunts.
One potential advantage mentioned by several law enforcement officials: school is out for summer, meaning there is no ready-made rallying point for young people to gather.
Still, authorities are taking no chances, particularly in the Miami area which has had riots in the past connected to racially-charged court cases.
The worst rioting occurred in 1980 in the mostly-black Liberty City and Overtown neighborhoods of Miami, after four white police officers were acquitted in the death of Arthur McDuffie, a black Marine Corps veteran. McDuffie was beaten to death by police trying to stop him for a traffic violation. The three-day riot killed 18 people and did some $100 million in damage.
The Miami-Dade Police Department’s intelligence operation, known as the Southeast Florida Fusion Center, has been combing social media to monitor signs of unusual interest in Zimmerman’s trial. The center also acts as a platform for South Florida’s numerous police agencies to quickly share information.
The department’s deputy director, Juan Perez, said law enforcement’s goal is to allow for peaceful rallies or protests but be ready in case violence flares. Perez said plans call for establishment of “First Amendment Zones” in certain neighborhoods if crowds do gather, so people can exercise their rights.
“We want to make sure people have the right to protest,” Perez said. But if there are problems, he added: “Our job is going to be to minimize those opportunities to rob a store or shoplift.”
To the north in Broward County, Sheriff Scott Israel and his staff have organized several meetings with African-American church and community leaders and recently began airing a public service TV ad featuring Miami Heat player James Jones. The ad’s theme is “Raise Your Voice, Not Your Hands” and it also stresses a nonviolent approach.
“We don’t have information about a specific event that might take place at the conclusion of the trial, but we encourage everyone to keep any protests peaceful,” Israel said.
Similarly, in central Florida, religious leaders have been encouraged to attend the trial and discuss it with their congregations. Up to four courtroom seats were reserved for clergy on a rotating basis, and more than a dozen churches have held regular Monday prayer sessions during the trial.