Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Amid divisive protests in Sanford, a search for understanding

Garry Jones, left, of Atlanta and H. Alexander Duncan of Eatonville discuss the trial outside the Seminole County Courthouse in Sanford.

Associated Press

Garry Jones, left, of Atlanta and H. Alexander Duncan of Eatonville discuss the trial outside the Seminole County Courthouse in Sanford.

SANFORD – Inside the courthouse, the jury was deliberating. Outside, the protesters were yelling.

The folks on one side of the fence held signs that said SELF DEFENSE IS A BASIC HUMAN RIGHT! and GEORGE GOT HIT YOU MUST ACQUIT.

Those on the other side held signs that said JUSTICE 4 TRAYVON and END RACIAL OPPRESSION.

Alexander Duncan walked among them, shaking hands, no matter the shade of skin. He lives nearby, in Eatonville, but he has shown up here almost every day since jury selection began four weeks ago.

Not to protest. The issues this trial raises are too complicated to fit on a piece of poster board, he said. Shouting into a bullhorn won't solve problems.

"That's so 20th century," he said.

He has come to bear witness and, if possible, to strike up conversation. To talk. To listen. Because none of this is black and white.

He stopped to talk to a man holding a sign that said "Creepy Ass Cracker Is Racist."

"Why is that racist?" Duncan asked. The man wouldn't engage him. He mumbled something about the N-word being the same as "cracker." A heavy-set woman surged toward them both.

"We're not racist!" she shouted. "We're not racist!"

Duncan moved on. Shouting isn't talking.

He's 33, a third-generation Floridian. He knows the etymology of the word "cracker" here and that it, too, is complicated.

He grew up in mostly white schools with mostly white friends, so he's comfortable in both worlds.

When he was a boy, he noticed that his friend's father never spoke to him. He asked why. He doesn't like black people, his friend told him.

It hurt, but Duncan realized that his friend's father still opened the door and let him into the house.

In elementary school, a teacher told him he'd be in prison by the time he was 17. He cried, but the same teacher let him teach social studies for two weeks, an experience so profound it changed his life. Now he sits on the soil and water conservation board.

"People are people," he said. "A mix of good and bad and everything in between."

It's a different America than his grandfather experienced.

In 1936, Duncan said, he survived an attempted lynching. Most of his family fled, but his mother's branch stayed in Central Florida.

It's a different America than his parents experienced.

"They had to stand up and go through some horrific things during the civil rights movement for me to have the life that me and my siblings have had," he said.

So now, it's his turn.

He surprises people by saying he's a big fan of the Second Amendment and a member of the National Rifle Association. He tells them that many African Americans don't trust the justice system now because of a long history of mistreatment.

He tells them about the time he came home and found two teens sitting on his back patio. They started to mouth off until they saw the gun in his hand.

If he had shot the white intruders on his property, he asks, would the justice system treat him the same way it would a person with lighter skin?

If he mentions slavery or segregation, people tell him that's old news. Move on.

"Those are my forefathers," he said. "But I'm supposed to rave when they talk to me about George Washington or Thomas Jefferson?"

He monitors his voice, and his speech, in conversation. If he gets too loud or heated, he said, he'll be labeled a radical or an activist.

We could all do a better job of understanding each other, he said. That's what brings him out.

"Too many people in my own family, let alone our forefathers, shed and gave up and made too many sacrifices for me to sit idly by," he said. "So if I can touch anybody with anything I say or do, hopefully it'll be for the best."

As the afternoon faded, the group of protesters swelled, their shouts growing louder, and police moved in to separate a man who had become irate. Duncan was a portrait of calm in a growing storm.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8650.

Amid divisive protests in Sanford, a search for understanding 07/13/13 [Last modified: Sunday, July 14, 2013 12:39am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa Bay small businesses give Tampa B+ for regulatory climate

    Corporate

    In a recent survey about small business sentiments toward state and local government policies that affect them, Tampa Bay ranked at No. 25 out of 80 — a B+ overall.

    Tampa Bay ranked No. 25 out of 80 in a recent survey about how small business owners feel about state and local government policies that affect them. | [Times file photo]
  2. Dirk Koetter to Bucs: Take your complaints to someone who can help

    Bucs

    TAMPA — It was just another day of aching bellies at One Save Face.

    Dirk Koetter: “All of our issues are self-inflicted right now.”
  3. Seminole Heights murders: fear and warnings, but no answers

    Crime

    TAMPA — Interim Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan elicited loud gasps from the crowd of about 400 who showed up at Edison Elementary School on Monday night to learn more about the string of unsolved killings that have left the southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood gripped by fear.

    Kimberly Overman, left, comforts Angelique Dupree, center, as she spoke about the death of her nephew Benjamin Mitchell, 22, last week in Seminole Heights. The Tampa Police Department held a town hall meeting Monday night where concerned residents hoped to learn more about the investigation into the three shooting deaths over 11 days in southeast Seminole Heights. But police could give the crowd at Edison Elementary School few answers. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  4. Juvenile justice reform seen as help for teen car theft problem

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations has decided to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year.

    One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations, Faith & Action for Strength Together (FAST), voted Monday night to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year. FAST believes civil citations could help Pinellas County?€™s teen car theft epidemic by keeping children out of the juvenile justice system for minor offenses. [ZACHARY T. SAMPSON  |  Times]
  5. U.S. general lays out Niger attack details; questions remain (w/video)

    War

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Special Forces unit ambushed by Islamic militants in Niger didn't call for help until an hour into their first contact with the enemy, the top U.S. general said Monday, as he tried to clear up some of the murky details of the assault that killed four American troops and has triggered a nasty …

    Gen. Joseph Dunford said much is still unclear about the ambush.