Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Public safety

As world watched Sanford, Sanford watched TV for Trayvon Martin announcement

SANFORD — A photograph of George Zimmerman flashed across the TV news in Gloria Vallot's living room, where she gathered Wednesday night with grandchildren, friends and her pastor husband.

Second-degree murder. That's what they all heard, finally, after more than six weeks of waiting. That was the charge George Zimmerman, 28, would face in the death of Trayvon Martin, 17.

"You won't kill nobody else," she told the Zimmerman photo, there on TV.

News choppers hovered over town. CNN took over a barbershop. The barber had been interviewed by four journalists, including one from Denmark, and more waited outside.

While the nation watched Sanford, Sanford watched TV, to learn what kind of justice would be announced.

An hour later, children danced at what was to be a prayer service for Martin at the Allen Chapel AME Church, but turned into an event of jubilation for the dozens of people there.

Mike and Gloria Vallot, together 34 years, have grandkids who are 17. Three grandchildren live in the Retreat at Twin Lakes, where Martin died.

The Vallots' own son was wounded by gunfire a few years ago, and the shooter, who was white, went to prison.

Every day since the death of Martin, she has put herself in his family's place.

"That could be one of my grandchildren," said Mrs. Vallot.

They've spent their lives in Sanford. He's pastor at Starting Over Outreach Ministries, with a congregation of about 50, and delivers a weekly radio show, Let's talk about it, with Pastor Mike.

Husband and wife, they've bantered back and forth about the case, two minds in one family.

She didn't know Trayvon Martin, but doesn't believe he did anything wrong. If he fought, where was the evidence? she wanted to know. Over and over, she wrestles with that. Where were the injuries?

Her husband wishes people had been more patient with the justice system. He knows that public pressure, pressure from as distant as the White House, took the case this far. It could be hard to seat a jury, given all the publicity, he said.

"Innocent until proven guilty," he reminded his family. "You've got to be proven guilty in a court of law."

He remembers feeling compassion even for the man who shot their son.

"If we can't forgive each other," he said, "how can our heavenly father forgive?"

How would he feel, he asks himself, if he stood in the place of the Zimmerman family.

"We lost two people that night," he said. "Two people were killed in reality. Two people lost their lives. It will never be the same for either family."

Mrs. Vallot thinks Zimmerman made a mistake. She knows his family must be in pain.

"You kind of feel bad on both ends," she said, "but if you kill somebody, you got to go through the process."

On the TV news, Martin's mother talked about blood being red, not black or white.

The Rev. Al Sharpton talked about people coming together.

"Come together," Mrs. Vallot repeated. "Amen."

Patty Ryan can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or [email protected]

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