With anger over the wanton slaying of Trayvon Martin still roiling African Americans in Sanford, Florida and across the nation, city leaders there have chosen a black man to head its police force.
Their choice is Cecil Smith, the deputy chief of the Elgin, Illinois, Police Department. Smith, in January, 2008, was rewarded with the deputy chief’s rank after steady progress up the departmental ladder. His upward journey began as a patrolman, twenty years earlier, in 1988.
Blackamericaweb.com was unable to reach Smith for comment.
Smith told The Orlando Sun Sentinel yesterday that he intended “to talk to my family” before making a decision to accept or reject the offer. Yet in The Sun Sentinel article, however, Smith hinted that he is leaning toward accepting it.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but I believe in sitting down with the members of the community and working on these issues,” Smith said.
Sanford has limped along without a police chief since Spring, 20012, when William Lee, then its chief, decided against arresting George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin. As a result of mounting protests, Lee was eventually fired.
Although the lead detective in the case strongly recommended arresting Zimmerman, Lee declined to do so, reportedly after meeting with the assailant’s father, a retired judge, at the Sanford Police headquarters. The elder Zimmerman allegedly called Lee soon after his son shot and killed the unarmed teen and asked him to meet him at the headquarters.
After an insistent drumbeat of city, state and national protests, Zimmerman was eventually arrested and is currently free on $1 million bail. His attorney, Mark O’Mara, yesterday appealed to the public for additional funds, saying that none are available for Zimmerman’s continued defense. Thus far, Zimmerman’s friends and supporters have contributed some $314,000 for his defense and living expenses.
“What we really need now,” said Norton Bonaparte, the Sanford City Manager–who recently interview Smith, its mayor, city manager and police in a discussion with The Sun Sentinel–“is a police chief who not only has the confidence of the police officers, but one who has an excellent rapport with the community.”
In a Wednesday afternoon interview with BlackAmericaWeb.com, Bonaparte said, “what I would hope is that (Smith) would do his very best in bridging the communications gap between the Sanford Police department and segments of the community.”
When asked if Smith, in the wake of the Travvon Martin killing, should be expected to cut through the anger and distrust among African Americans and, presumably, other residents, Bonaparte replied, “that would be my aspiration for Mr. Smith.”
But what if Smith cannot accomplish that goal? Will he be fired? Bonaparte was asked. “We’ll continue to work on it,” Bonaparte said.
For comment Wednesday afternoon, BlackAmericaWeb.com placed calls to a wide range of African American leaders, including Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Office, its Florida State Conference, the senior minister of Sanford’s St. James AME Church and the Vice President of the National Progressive Baptist Convention.
None were available for comment before this article was posted.