When I recall that the parents of Trayvon Martin said that their son laid in a morgue as unidentifiable for three days, basically tossed aside until someone came for him, I wondered, why didn’t the police make an effort to find the kid’s family?
Why did they throw Trayvon Martin away for three days? However, learning more about the city of Sanford’s history, (unfortunately, similar to the history of far too many cities in the South) through the fog of my questions comes an image of generations of discrimination and negative impressions of Blacks in general.
Sanford, Florida is a city that will now be known for all times as the place where Trayvon Martin was killed for the crime of Living While Black. It’s in addition the place whose institutions—the police department, the local press, and even the city morgue—treated Trayvon and his body in ways that should disturb anyone with a shred of conscience.
The city of Sanford also has a past that speaks to the racism many believe to be at the heart of why Trayvon was killed and why the man who pulled the trigger was not arrested. I’m not arguing that Sanford, Florida, is somehow more or less twisted than anywhere else. Last month, unarmed, 18-year-old Ramarley Graham was killed in his bathroom by police in New York City. Last week Dane Scott Jr. in Del City, Oklahoma, was killed by police after a “scuffle.” The state medical examiner’s office, however, declared Scott’s death a homicide. The murder of Trayvon Martin is a “local issue” only if we understand “local” to mean local communities across the country.
But Sanford, Florida, does have its own history and it includes a collective moment of intolerance and bigotry that almost derailed the man Martin Luther King Jr. called “a freedom rider before freedom rides,” Jackie Robinson.
Before Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color line in 1947 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he spent a season desegregating the minor leagues, playing for the Dodgers AAA team, the Montreal Royals. The Royals held Spring Training in Sanford.
Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, after so many years, thought he knew Florida. He believed that Robinson’s presence could go over if efforts were taken to ruffle as few feathers as possible. Robinson, on Rickey’s instructions, didn’t try to stay at any Sanford hotels. He and his wife didn’t eat out at any restaurants not deemed “Negro restaurants.” He didn’t even dress in the same locker room as his teammates.
Rickey thought that would be enough. He thought he knew Florida. But he didn’t know Sanford.
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