SANFORD, Fla. -
Cecil Smith isn’t the first black police chief in Sanford, Florida, but he hopes to be the one who saves it from a racial meltdown in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict.
Smith was going door-to-door in the steamy heat of a Thursday afternoon, trying to regain trust among black residents in a city whose founder tried to ship former slaves back to Africa in the late 19th century - a city that sent America’s first black major league baseball player, Jackie Robinson, packing because of his race.
Miriam Holmes didn’t answer the front door when Smith came knocking. Instead, she went to her garage door to ask, “Is there a reason why you all are at my house?”
“Yes ma’am,” said Smith, smiling brightly to allay Holmes’ obvious suspicion. “How are ya?”
Smith hopes to defuse racial tension ahead of the Zimmerman verdict. But Holmes said she thinks that’s impossible.
“It’s nice to see him, but I don’t think it’s gonna help,” she said.
Holmes is black. But white people are afraid as well.
A few doors down, Holly Manners, who is white, greeted the chief warmly when he knocked on her door. They exchanged pleasantries for a few moments. But after Smith left, Manners admitted she is afraid of a not-guilty verdict in the Zimmerman case.
“I don’t even want to be around here at that time, for a few days at least” she said nervously. “Let it calm down.”
Smith admitted there is the possibility of violence. Even as he was going door-to-door in Goldsboro, his department was also finalizing tactical plans to deal with any unrest that does arise out of the Zimmerman verdict. Smith would not talk specifically about those plans, except to say, “We obviously have to keep people safe.”