For two hours Tuesday, nearly 200 people gathered to listen to faith-based leaders, attorneys and police call for peace after the verdict is announced in the George Zimmerman trial.
Billed as a community briefing, the meeting inside the North Dade Regional Library’s auditorium in Trayvon Martin’s hometown of Miami Gardens was described as an event “to inform, empower and protect our community” before what is expected to be an emotion-filled day when the verdict is announced.
“Somebody’s going to be disappointed with the outcome of this trial,” said Walter Richardson, chair of the Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board, which hosted the meeting.
“It’s alright to be vocal. It’s wrong to be violent. We already lost one soul,” Wright continued.
The evening touched briefly on a dark side of the county’s past when the acquittal of four Miami-Dade Police officers in the death of Arthur McDuffie led to violent riots in the 1980s.
“Miami-Dade County is a far more mature place than it was in the 1970s and the 1980s when several court decisions resulted in violent reactions and fires and deaths and burning,” said Edward Shohat, chairman of the board’s Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Committee.
In an effort to allow community members to voice their concerns and emotions in a safe environment, Miami-Dade police have identified “First Amendment zones” throughout the county for protests, if needed.
Local churches also will open their doors for community forums to take place.
If there are violent flare ups, police say they are prepared for that as well.
Miami-Dade Police will keep the public up to date with information on Facebook and Twitter, as well as the 311 hotline.
Broward Sheriff Office representatives also attended the meeting. On Tuesday, Broward announced Sheriff Scott Israel would meet with clergy to prepare for community reaction to the verdict.
Bernice Belcher-Miller, a Miami Gardens resident in attendance, said she’s worried that the verdict could cause unrest if it doesn’t go as some expect.
“It’s unpredictable. The emotional level runs very high. I think there’s a residue of built-up anger and this may be the situation that brings it more out,” Belcher-Miller said. “I don’t think we should use this as a conduit to let go our frustrations.”
The meeting ended with a prayer for peace.