Trayvon Martin protesters in Florida blocked from courthouse area

SANFORD, Fla. -- As protests expanded nationally over George Zimmerman's acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin, activists in the town where the trial was held complained that police had foiled their plans for a large gathering. 

Organizers with the Coalition for Justice for Trayvon had planned a protest at 3 p.m. at the courthouse in Sanford, Fla., where Zimmerman was acquitted Saturday night in the death of the 17-year-old. But when they arrived, they said, they were stopped by deputies and redirected to a downtown park several miles away.

Deputies said the courthouse area was closed to foot traffic despite a slew of media and satellite trucks.

“A lot of people got turned away,” Whitney Siegall, 24, an organizer from Tallahassee, told The Times as she stood with half a dozen others on the sidewalk beyond the courthouse complex.

She said a few local pastors contacted the group to say they had announced the protest during church and had heard that church members showed up only to be told by deputies that it was canceled. Others who drove from Miami had trouble finding the new location.

A Sanford police spokesman referred questions to the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff’s office issued an advisory early Sunday that the courthouse and grounds were closed to the public, and that led to the protesters being turned away, sheriff's office spokeswoman Heather Smith said.

About 100 protesters eventually gathered at about 5 p.m. at Fort Mellon Park near historic downtown Sanford on the shore of Lake Monroe.

A woman walked among the crowd distributing plastic flowers while holding a sign that said “Love one another.”

Others held handmade signs that said “We are all Trayvon” and “America is not the land of the free.”

They formed a circle at the edge of the park, and people took turns standing at the center and venting their frustration with the verdict, which some said they saw as racist.

Jay Jurie, 62, a professor of public administration at the nearby University of Central Florida, said black and white residents get along “on a superficial level” but that poor black residents get left behind just as they did in the era of “separate but equal.”

“That’s what we have here — separate but equal. Only of course, it never was equal,” he said.

Black residents said they were frustrated by the verdict, though not surprised that the jury of six women, five of them white, failed to side with a black youth.

“This is our town. We are tired of being treated as second-class citizens,” said Gary Marion, 47, the black father of three sons. 

Marion said he was demoralized by the verdict and had little hope that a newly announced federal Justice Department inquiry would help. He needed, he said, somewhere to vent.

“It was hurtful, but it wasn’t a surprise to anyone from here,” he said of the verdict. “It’s nothing new to black America.”

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

On Twitter: @mollyhf