Bad feelings have festered in Sanford, shattered community's trust

Sarah Floyd, 81, owns West 13th Street Barbershop in the Goldsboro neighborhood of Sanford. (Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel)

In the heart of Sanford's poorest and largest black enclave — a stone's throw from decaying homes, broken sidewalks and vacant lots — stands the city's new, state-of-the-art public-safety complex.

For a while, some residents saw the modern, two-story building as a symbol of hope that might spur economic growth and keep people safer in historic Goldsboro, one of Florida's oldest black communities.

But memories are long and hope is elusive in Goldsboro, founded more than 120 years ago by black laborers struggling to survive in the segregated South.

Today, just 21 months since its opening, the $16 million Sanford Public Safety Complex, with its glass and concrete facade, is little more than a gleaming symbol of distrust to many of its 4,000 neighbors just southwest of downtown Sanford.

The shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the Police Department's decision not to charge George Zimmerman immediately vanquished any efforts toward good will. Instead, the black teenager's killing rekindled long-held fears and suspicions among Goldsboro residents, who say they've watched for generations as a dual standard of justice played out on their streets.

Nearly 15 months before Trayvon was shot, Justin Collison, who is white, walked up behind a homeless black man outside a Sanford bar, drew back his arm and slammed a fist into the back of the man's head. A video showed the victim fall forward, hit his head on a pole and drop to the ground, breaking his nose.

The unprovoked attack sparked widespread outrage.

Sanford police did not frisk or handcuff Collison, whose father is a police lieutenant with the department. Instead, they set him free.

He wasn't arrested until a month later and eventually was sentenced to probation.

Five years earlier, a crowd watched as a white police officer — with a reputation for aggressive behavior toward blacks — repeatedly punched a black man who was on the ground, in handcuffs, after having been shocked with a Taser by other officers during an arrest.

The Sanford police chief fired the officer for behavior related to the incident, but the city manager rehired him.

Today, those in Goldsboro see plenty of police officers patrolling their streets, but they complain that few are trying to build relationships with the community. And some residents are beginning to question why the new Police Department was built in Goldsboro in the first place.

"You see police cars cruise up and down the streets," said Leonard Killingsworth, 33, as he fished along the shores of Lake Monroe near Sanford's Fort Mellon Park. "But when you go to the white neighborhoods or the downtown area, you don't see that."

Oscar Redden, more than 30 years older than Killingsworth, understands these suspicions.

Redden, who operates a drug-rehabilitation center in Goldsboro, remembers making the mistake as a young boy in the late 1950s of wandering into a part of downtown Sanford considered off limits to young blacks.

A police officer "backed me into a corner and said: 'Boy, what are you doing here? Get back to Goldsboro,' " Redden recalled. "It's those kinds of incidents that will have black people, even today, teach their children to be aware of police officers and be aware of who you are dealing with. We learned to distrust the police."

For Redden and thousands of others in Goldsboro, the Trayvon case was the tipping point.

"You can only turn your cheek so many times," Redden said. "Trayvon was the straw that weighed down the wagon and made the wheel come off."

Goldsboro could no longer contain its anger. It was here that rallies and marches organized by civil-rights leaders, community activists, clergymen and concerned residents took place in the weeks after Trayvon was shot.