Two mayors, one past and one present, are lunching at a restaurant on the edge of Goldsboro as the first week of jury selection concludes in the Zimmerman trial.
Mayor Jeff Triplett has the double cheeseburger. Former mayor Brady Lessard has the grilled chicken sandwich with collard greens. Both have the opinion that the long-standing distrust between the police and the African American community — inflamed by Zimmerman’s delayed arrest — does not mean Sanford is any more troubled or any less diverse than another U.S. city.
“Look at this place,” Triplett says, nodding to the other clientele. “Look around.”
A 20-something black man and his toddler-aged daughter are in the next booth over. Across the way are three men: one white and one black, both construction workers, and one Hispanic wearing what appears to be nurses’ scrubs. The two white mayors blend in here because no one really looks like anyone else. The same is true at the city’s monthly “Alive After 5” street party downtown, where young and old, black and white, rich and poor mingle on First Street. There, you can see hipsters in John Waters T-shirts, rednecks in patchy overalls, tattooed bikers rolling up to the blues bar, bejeweled women pushing tiny dogs in strollers, a man wearing a Confederate flag bandana standing next to a charging station for electric vehicles, and the town’s resident drag queen having dinner with his husband.
“These media people decrying stereotyping and profiling — all these things that ‘aren’t allowed’ — that’s what they did to the city of Sanford,” Triplett says.
Lessard, a civil engineer who left office in 2005, asks how many people were hurt or killed by gun violence in Chicago the previous weekend (two dead, 17 injured). “What’s lost in this is incidents are happening like this every day,” he says.
“Black-on-black crime, white-on-black crime — it’s killing in general,” Triplett says. “Neighbors killing neighbors.”
After Trayvon’s death, Lessard says, “not one of the protests or marches had to do with gun control.”
The marches last year were peaceful and constructive, but the way the media covered them stoked an anxiety that lingers to this day, says longtime local businesswoman Sara Jacobson, who owns commercial property downtown and says that restaurants have reported cancellations because people fear what might happen after a verdict.
Jacobson, like many other residents interviewed earlier this month, thinks that the rest of the country is imposing its own fears and prejudices on Sanford, whose singling out is both unjust and illuminating.