SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) - Robyn Miller watched her dark-skinned toddlers play in a Sanford park on Sunday and spoke of her fears about their future after George Zimmerman was cleared in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
“All my children are mixed race, and I fear for them and their friends and everybody else,” said the 28-year-old white mother of five.
“Since the verdict came as not guilty, what I‘m thinking is you can just walk up to somebody and start a fight and if they start winning the fight you can shoot them and kill them and get away with it.”
Like Miller, Sanford residents coming to grips with the verdict that came down late Saturday acquitting the neighborhood watch coordinator of murder and manslaughter in Martin’s death said the decision made them wary, if not frightened, for their own safety and that of others.
“It actually puts a lot of us a little bit more on edge,” said Lil, a 54-year-old black Sanford woman who did not want to disclose her last name, as she walked in Derby Park across the street from the gated community where the shooting occurred 16 months ago.
“As a minority, you’re not sure where your place is. You don’t know where you can walk freely and where you can enjoy yourself freely without being approached the wrong way,” she said.
To illustrate, she pointed to a car parked nearby with its trunk hood up.
“I‘m going to walk all the way around that because I don’t want to get accused of getting anywhere close to it,” she said. “It’s just something as a minority you do. You adjust your lifestyle. You watch out for yourself.”
The apprehension isn’t limited by race, said Susan, a 56-year-old white woman walking her dog Missy in the park. She also did not want her last name used.
She recalled being unnerved the rainy night of the February 2012 shooting, when she was in the same park walking her dog and, like Martin, wearing a hooded sweatshirt.
“There was nobody in the park, and I had a hoodie on,” she said.
“Of course, I‘m a white old woman so it doesn’t really matter,” she added with a wry laugh.
But the fact that many people in Sanford are religious could help ease the feelings of fear and anger in the community, Miller said.
“Once they go to church, and the preacher puts in their heart the right way to think about it and the positive way to deal with it, it might change other people’s minds than to go out and get crazy,” she said.
Indeed, that was the message Rev. Vernon McQueen tried to deliver to the congregation gathered at a music- and dance-filled service on Sunday morning at the Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church in Sanford’s black Goldsboro neighborhood.
“We are not depending on the Sanford Police Department. We are not depending on Seminole County sheriffs. We are not depending on the courts. We know that a finding of guilty comes from the Lord,” McQueen said.
“You know, God, we know as long as we keep our hands in your hands, everything will be all right,” he said.
Additional reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Cynthia Osterman