With the verdict drawing near, police and city leaders in Sanford and other parts of Florida said they have taken precautions for the possibility of mass protests or even civil unrest if George Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, is acquitted. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder for killing Trayvon Martin, a black teen, in a Florida neighborhood last year. Zimmerman says the killing was in self-defense.
There were big protests in Sanford and other cities across the country last year when authorities waited 44 days before arresting Zimmerman.
About 60 protestors gathered outside the courthouse as of 5:42 p.m. EDT, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The vocal protestors carried “I am Trayvon banners” and called for justice outside the courthouse in Sanford in the rain, according to the Guardian.
Meanwhile, Donald Eslinger, sheriff of Seminole County, said inside the courthouse that preparations have been made but there are no signs yet that mass protests or riots will break out.
“We recognise that this case has stirred up a great deal of emotion but we’re not seeing tension here in Seminole County,” he said. “There is no party involved in this case that wants to see any violence and we have every expectation upon the announcement of this verdict that our community and its visitors will continue to act peacefully.
“We will not tolerate anyone who uses this verdict as an excuse to violate the law.”
Police Chief Cecil Smith walked downtown this afternoon and told residents and shopkeepers, according to MSNBC, that if they have an issue, “pick up the phone and call me.”
One resident, Cecil Nelson, said that if Zimmerman is declared innocent there’s no doubt what will happen.
“If he’s found innocent there’s going to be an uprising,” he said. “There’s going to be trouble.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.