Mikhail Muhammad, center, leads a protest by the New Black Panther Party on Saturday, March 24, 2012, in front of the Retreat at Twin Lakes community in Sanford, Florida, where Trayvon Martin was shot and killed last month. (Gary W. Green, Orlando Sentinel / March 24, 2012)
5:28 p.m. CDT, March 24, 2012
SANFORD — 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.
Muhammad said the group’s national chairman, Dr. Malik Zulu Shabaz of Washington, D.C. is receiving donations from black entertainers and athletes. They hope to collect $1 million by next week, Muhammad said.
The party said they would not release the names of donors nor would they provide documentation to support the existence of donations.
The New Black Panthers announced the reward at a protest in Sanford Saturday, the activist group’s third protest in the past two weeks over the fatal shooting of the Miami Gardens teen.
The group 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.
Muhammed led the 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.
City officials issued a statement, they said was approved by Sanford Police Captain Robert O’Connor, condemning the group’s appeal and asking citizens to leave all arrests to them.
“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.”
The party members said they are tired of the inaction of government officials — from Sanford city officials up to the Governor, accusing them of lying and delaying justice.
They accused newly-appointed special prosecutor Angela Corley of being an enemy of the black community.
“She has a track record of sending innocent young black men and women to prison,” he said.
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 will 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.
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 Southern Poverty Law Center says 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.
Trayvon was killed Feb. 26 in the gated Retreat at Twin Lakes community while walking back to his father’s fiancee’s town house. Zimmerman spotted the unarmed teen and called the Sanford Police Department’s nonemergency line to report a suspicious person.
Zimmerman shot Travon before officers could respond. Zimmerman told police he acted in self-defense. He has not been arrested and is not charged with a crime.
This is a breaking-news story. Check back for updates.