I recently participated in a panel discussion on Daytona Beach’s future and what needs to be done to prevent a Trayvon Martin situation from happening here. I was pleasantly surprised to see the diverse turnout of approximately 300 people at Greater Friendship Baptist Church July 25.
The panel was made up of myself, Daytona Beach’s mayor, the city’s police chief, a preacher, two educators, a lawyer, a Bethune-Cookman University student, and the Daytona Beach NAACP president.
The best solution to preventing innocent Black men and boys from being shot by a George Zimmerman type is if they are employed and productive members of society.
A problem that exists in Sanford and Daytona Beach is that Blacks, specifically Black men and youth, are not being hired to work for the city, county, school system and major employers.
Unfortunately many have records, some for minor drug possession. Even though these employers are not supposed to discriminate against them because of their past discretions, they do and don’t hire them for jobs.
Talked to many
My purpose for being on the panel was sharing what I learned while covering the Zimmerman trial in Sanford.
During and after the trial, I talked to a diverse group of people – the Rev. Al Sharpton; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; NAACP President Ben Jealous; local Sanford pastor Valarie Houston of Allen Chapel AME Church; Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte; and the local NAACP branch president, Turner Clayton.
I interviewed Attorneys Darryl Parks and Ben Crump, who represented Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, Trayvon Martin’s parents. I met the parents in January.
But most importantly, I talked to a couple of dozen Black Sanford residents. What they shared with me eerily mirrored some of the same problems that exist in Daytona Beach. It was not hard for me to come to the conclusion that my hometown is fertile for a similar Trayvon killing to take place.
The Black Sanford residents told me that for decades they have been prejudged and racial profiled by police and White residents; not enough Blacks worked for the city, county and school system; a disproportionate number of Blacks have been arrested, preventing them from voting, serving on juries and getting certain jobs; city and county leaders weren’t investing in predominantly Black populated areas; Black children and communities disproportionately were targeted for arrest by police; and the existence of the “good old boy network” continues, which includes women.
One big difference between Daytona Beach and Sanford is we have three Black commissioners and they have only one. Volusia County does have one Black County Council member and one Black on the School Board.
Sanford has a Black city manager who has been on the job two years and a Black police chief, who was hired a few months ago to replace the White police chief who gave the order to not initially arrest George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon.
Daytona Beach has Blacks in key positions with the city – city clerk, leisure services director, assistant city manager and economic and community development director.
But under, them there are fewer and fewer Blacks over the years being hired to work for the city as other Blacks quit or retire, an investigation uncovered by the Daytona Times disclosed.
One Sanford resident I talked to referred to the Blacks working for the city and other “Black leaders as “house niggers.’’ doing the bidding of their White bosses.
That may have been the case in Daytona Beach years ago, but a new crop of Blacks such as Commissioner Paula Reed (who was the only elected official present at the forum) and deceased Commissioner Charles Cherry and former Mayor Yvonne Scarlett Golden changed the trajectory.
Though Daytona Beach attracts hundreds of thousands of people every year to the “World’s Most Famous Beach’’ and to the “World Center of Racing,’’ many of the 60,000 of us who live here year-round are suffering with low wages or no wages compared to other cities with similar attractions.
The forum shed light that Blacks don’t think monolithically. Many in the audience support Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood even though his department has been accused of some of the same actions as the Sanford Police Department.
NAACP President Cynthia Slater said her office gets complaints about the police department every day and a week doesn’t go by that someone doesn’t approach me about the DBPD.
More forums needed
There will unfortunately be more Trayvon Martins, unless, as Slater said, more of us register to vote and elect people in local, county, state and national offices who are willing to make a difference for the least of us and change laws on the books that weigh heavily against us.
I’m hoping the future Martin Luther King Jrs., Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamers and Dorothy Heights have been awakened after this verdict.
Some believe the verdict and the current “stand your ground” law gives some a license to kill innocent Black men and boys.
It will take more forums, and marches if necessary for all of us, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Indian to come together to bring attention to the problems that exists and put people in positions who are willing to go against the grain and make a difference.
All needed at the table
As writer Langston Hughes once asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?”
The time has come for all our dreams to come true. This won’t happen unless all of us are at the table – Blacks, Whites, elected officials from Daytona Beach and surrounding cities; county council members; school board members; representatives from city, county and school system staffs; and representatives from major employers in the area.