Members of the New Black Panther Party are offering a $10,000 reward for the “capture” of George Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who shot Trayvon Martin.
New Black Panther leader Mikhail Muhammad announced the reward during a protest in Sanford Saturday. And when asked whether he was inciting violence, Muhammad replied defiantly: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
The bounty announcement came moments after members of the group called for the mobilization of 10,000 black men to capture Zimmerman, who shot Trayvon in a gated Sanford community on Feb. 26.
Muhammad said members of his group would search for Zimmerman themselves in Maitland — where the 28-year old worked before the shooting, employees there told The Orlando Sentinel. He declined to say when the group would begin their search.
Sanford city officials issued a statement late Saturday, condemning the group’s appeal and asking citizens to leave all arrests to the police. The statement was sanctioned by Sanford Police Captain Robert O’Connor — one of two Captains now leading the department in the wake of Police Chief Bill Lee’s temporary suspension.
“The City is requesting calm heads and no vigilante justice,” the statement said. “Attempts by civilians to take any person into custody may result in criminal charges or unnecessary violence.”
Former Orange-Osceola County prosecutor Esther Whitehead said the Panthers’ bounty opens them up to civil and possibly criminal liability.
“I can’t see how anyone can go out and take action as a private citizen without some government action like the issuance of a warrant,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t sound reasonable.”
The New Black Panthers were in Sanford Saturday for the group’s third protest in the past two weeks over the fatal shooting of the Miami Gardens teen.
The group has consistently called for Zimmerman’s arrest and threatened to find and detain him if police were not willing to do so. But group members didn’t call for the mobilization of thousands until Saturday.
On Saturday, Muhammed led the small group in chanting “Justice for Trayvon!” and “Black Power!”
“If the government won’t do the job, we’ll do it,” Muhammad said, leading his group of eight party members in chants like “freedom or death” and “justice for Trayvon” while making the iconic gesture of raising their fists into the air.
The party members said they are tired of the inaction of government officials — from Sanford city officials up to the Governor — and accused them of lying and delaying justice.
Sanford police arrived toward the end of the demonstration Saturday asking onlookers and media to avoid walking into the street in front of The Retreat at Twin Lakes where Trayvon was killed.
As the officer walked back to his cruiser, Muhammad berated and pointed angrily at him saying “If you’d had shown this much concern, Trayvon may still be alive today.”
The fiery rhetoric and often profanity-laden diatribes made some visitors to the impromptu memorial uncomfortable.
Pastor Moses Brown of Tampa said he was disappointed with the Panthers’ approach.
“We believe in a message of justice, not hate,” said Brown, who was in town to pray at the memorial and attend the Monday event at Sanford’s Civic Center. “We believe justice will come through the court system.”
Brown, who is also the Chief executive officer of Feed Our Children, said he has been meeting with other Christian ministers to discuss the case.
While the Panthers chanted behind him, Brown said “I see parallel versions of how we are coping with this as a community. Some in anger and us, in prayer. But we are in America where we have our rights to expression.”
Sanford resident James Tucker said the party’s message is about vengeance — not justice — and could rouse a “lynch mob” that could spiral out of control into a race riot.
“I’m as much for black power as anybody but this is going to alienate the white friends we need to get things done,” Tucker said, as he stood across the street from the demonstration.
The Southern Poverty Law Center website the New Black Panther Party, a black-separatist group founded in 1989, is “virulently racist and anti-Semitic,” and its leaders have encouraged violence against whites, Jews and law officers.
Like many people who have expressed outrage nationwide and beyond over the case, Muhammad, the group’s southern regional minister, has called Trayvon’s killing and the lack of an arrest a “miscarriage of justice.”