What's worse? To be known as a police department rife with buffoons, or one that is complicit with a loose cannon "community watch" volunteer?
That's pretty much the choice being offered up to the Sanford (Fla) police department, in the wake of the fallout over the tragic shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26.
The shooter, George Zimmerman, wasn't so much as brought to the police station for questioning, even though he literally held a smoking gun in his hand when police arrived that fateful night.
In fact, Zimmerman was allowed to go home with that gun still smoking in his truck, while Trayvon was lying dead on the ground, a gunshot wound to the chest proving fatal.
Almost a month after the incident, Zimmerman is still roaming free and the firestorm is spreading more rapidly than a Hollywood rumor.
The Sanford police chief, Bill Lee, stepped aside today, albeit "temporarily." This, one day after the city commission voted, 3-2, to render an official "no confidence" stand against Lee's abilities to perform his duties.
The vote was largely symbolic, because the only person who can can Lee, according to the city's laws, is City Manager Norton Bonaparte.
"The police chief works at the pleasure of the City Manager," Bonaparte told an incredulous Lawrence O'Donnell and an equally flabbergasted Rev. Al Sharpton last night on O'Donnell's "Last Word" program on MSNBC.
The two men were visibly frustrated with Bonaparte, who sat stone-faced and refused to give in to the very logical suggestion that the city manager give Police Chief Lee his walking papers.
Bonaparte wanted to take the tack of patience and caution, when the window has seemingly closed on that approach; Trayvon was killed 25 days ago.
Trayvon Martin (left) and George Zimmerman---two strangers now forever linked
But why did the Sanford police---especially the first officers on the scene after being dispatched by Zimmerman's 911 call of a "suspicious person"---let the shooter go home without so much as surrendering the killing weapon? Why would they let Zimmerman walk away pleading self defense, when he was instructed to stay in his vehicle until help arrived?
Zimmerman claims that it was on his way back to his vehicle---the one he was told to remain in---when he was set upon by Trayvon, who by all indications was merely walking home in the gated community after buying some candy.
So either the Sanford police bungled this immensely, or they eagerly went along with Zimmerman's story at face value---with a black teen lying on the ground, dead.
In neither case does Chief Lee's department come out looking good.
This is the kind of nonsense that can set race relations back decades.
City Manager Bonaparte, however, is black, which adds yet another strange wrinkle, and gives more weaponry to people of color, some of whom will undoubtedly cast Bonaparte as a you-know-what---another vile portrayal of black folks.
Florida is a "stand your ground state," which means that killing in self defense doesn't require trying to flee the situation before pulling the trigger or wielding the blade.
"You want to know how you can kill somebody legally in Florida?" said Arthur Hayhoe of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, as quoted in USA Today. "Make sure you have no witnesses, hunt the person down and then say you feared for your life."
Is that what George Zimmerman did?
Thanks to either bungling or complicity by the Sanford Police Department, we may never truly find out.
Not the best of legacies, in either instance.