Sunday, December 17, 2017
Public safety

Tampa Bay area officials ask for peace while awaiting Zimmerman verdict

TAMPA — Black elected officials gathered in Hillsborough County on Friday to ask for peace in advance of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.

They have no information that riots will happen, but Hillsborough Commissioner Les Miller said tensions are high. He sees the passion of people glued to television screens in barber shops and salons. He reads the vitriolic comments below online articles about the trial.

"I understand it's 2013," he said at an afternoon news conference. "You'd think after 1967 we wouldn't be in this position, but we are. We are."

Tampa saw race riots in 1967 after a white Tampa police officer shot an unarmed black teenage robbery suspect in the back. The teen's death sparked three nights of rioting. It also launched civil rights discussions in the bay area, Miller recalled, but today's discussions need to happen peacefully, he said.

Tampa police Chief Jane Castor spent Friday afternoon patrolling East Tampa, talking to residents and community leaders. She said passionate opinions abound, and while the agency is prepared to deal with law breakers, she does not get the sense that violence will erupt.

Hillsborough County School Board member Doretha Edgecomb issued a plea to young people, who are out of school for the summer. And state Rep. Darryl Rouson issued a statement:

"As flawed as our system of justice may be as a result of human beings being in control of procedure, it is still the greatest system of justice in the world," Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, wrote. "We must respect the jury system even if we don't agree with outcomes."

Correction: This article has been revised to clarify a reference to the 1967 race riots in Tampa.

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