HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. - The death of Trayvon Martin has transfixed our nation and re-ignited the civil rights debate.
At the center of the debate is self-appointed neighborhood watch leader, George Zimmerman, who claims self defense in the fatal shooting of the unarmed seventeen-year-old.
Hillsborough County's top law enforcer, Sheriff David Gee is watching the case closely and he can't help being concerned.
"It is an emotionally charged issue," said Gee.
Gee has shied away from commenting on this sensitive subject until now.
In 2006, the sheriff was appointed as a special investigator in the beating death of 14-year-old Martin Anderson. The teen died at a boot camp in Bay County.
The caught-on-camera death sparked a racial divide.
One of the medical examiners said it was the teens pre-existing condition of sickle cell anemia that led to his death.
Another maintained, the teen was suffocated to death after guards forced him to exhale ammonia tablets.
The Martin case brings back memories.
"There is a process that has to be filed and I think it is in the right form right now. I think the courts have to prevail and I think we need to allow the system to work. It's in the hands of a very capable state attorney," said Gee.
In Anderson's case, seven guards and nurse were ultimately taken to trial and then acquitted.
Gee said at the time, public opinion swayed toward guilt. Now he urges all of us to let the investigation take it's course.
"You can not calm people down when you are yelling at the top of your lungs,"' said Gee. "I think people who are in leadership positions need to calm people down. Because it is in the right form, if it wasn't in the right form that would be a different thing.
It is with the state attorney and that is the person who has the absolute authority and I think that is where it needs to be. I think we need to sit back right now and let them do their job and not put any more undue influence on them while they are trying to do their job."
ACTION NEWS also asked Gee about Zimmerman's defense that Stand Your Ground Law. A statue Gee never supported. And while he stresses he doesn't know the specifics of this current case the use of the defense disturbs him.
"I was concerned at the time that the law would give a defense to people who didn't deserve it and there have been some cases that are questionable," said Gee. "Once again though, I only know about the Martin case through media reports. So, I don't know if this would apply.
The sheriff urges restraint. What has become known now as the Travyon Movement is spreading throughout the country.
We have even seen celebrities including entire professional basketball teams and lawmakers wear hoodies in a show of solidarity. Some singers and actors have even petitioned for an arrest on change.org. And even here in Tampa, we have seen crowds in the hundreds demanding answers in the Martin case.
"I am not surprised by the rallies in our area. You know this thing has taken a life of it's own lately and it doesn't seem that it is going away anytime soon," said Gee.
Zimmerman, remains in hiding. His attorney's said he fears for his life. A grand jury set to convene on Tuesday could bring Zimmerman out if they decide to file charges.
"We all want the truth and I think the people deserve it. The families of everyone involved deserve to know what the truth is. Lets let the system work right now," stressed Gee.
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