After 16 1/2 hours of deliberation, the mostly-if-not-all White and all-female jury in the State of Florida vs. Zimmerman handed down a verdict of "not guilty." Protests have erupted in over 100 cities. But Zimmerman’s legal troubles may not be over. On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder, calling Trayvon Martin’s death “unnecessary,” said that the Justice Department is reviewing evidence in the case to determine whether criminal civil rights charges are warranted. And Trayvon Martin’s parents Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton still have the option of bringing a wrongful death civil suit against Zimmerman.
We spoke with Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump about details of the trial, how the Martin family is doing and what the next steps will be.
EBONY: How are Trayvon's parents holding up?
Benjamin Crump: I just got off the phone with Trayvon’s mother. She and Tracy were devastated by the verdict, as many people around the country were. Sybrina said she cried, she prayed, and she cried some more. Then she got up that morning and went to church. And after she came from church she called me and she said: ‘Attorney Crump, I will not let this verdict define Trayvon. We will define Trayvon’s legacy. She said ‘We’ve got to roll up our sleeves. Even though we’ve come a long way, we’ve got a long way to go to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else’s child, especially now that this verdict has been handed down.
EBONY: They weren’t in the courtroom when the verdict was read. Why was that?
BC: We didn’t know when the verdict was going to come down, and we thought it would be good if they went home and went to church because they were under so much emotional stress. They had also gotten some ridiculous threats so we thought it best that they go home [to Miami]. So they were on their way home when the verdict came.
EBONY: What do you make of the jury’s verdict? Were you surprised? Were the parents surprised?
BC: We were devastated. We think based on the evidence he should have been found guilty, but it shows you that we have a long way to go in matters of equal justice. But I will say this, what they made for bad, God made for good because the conversation has now evolved from not just one simply of equal justice, but one now of equal protection. And if you you observe the trial, their strategy was that, because an African-American teenager, male, had burglarized some town houses in that gated community, that the neighborhood watch volunteer now has the right to profile and follow Trayvon, just based on how he looked and what he was wearing. And the question now is for the Department of Justice: Can you profile our children, simply when they are walking home from the store legally. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that it is against the law for even the police to profile based on race. So is it now OK for this regular citizen with a 9mm gun, who hasn’t been trained, who is not sophisticated as to the psychology of criminalization is able to have his gun and follow and confront our children? We need to know if that’s the law, because we need to know what to tell our children, because obviously, if that’s the law, like Sybrina Fulton said: this could be anybody’s child.
On top of that, if it’s not the law then the federal government should bring civil rights violations against Trayvon’s killer.
The family and the parents are encouraging everybody to keep protesting and to keep rallying because we are upset about this verdict. We respect the rule of law, but we have a right to express ourselves. There’s freedom of expression in America.
EBONY: Do you think it hurt the case that the prosecution wasn’t allowed to talk about racial profiling?
BC: They made that decision not to do racial profiling. They did criminal profiling so that makes it ripe for the federal government to look at the racial element.
[The defense's] whole case was based on [the notion that] because Black boys have burglarized before in the neighborhood, it was OK for [Zimmernan] to profile. He went up to Trayvon because he was an African-American teen who fit a profile.
EBONY: What do you say in regards to analysts who say it was unclear what Trayvon was doing for 4 minutes before the altercation happened, and that he could have gone straight home in those 4 minutes?
BC: The more relevant question is, why couldn’t the killer get back to his car in those 4 minutes if he wasn’t following and stalking Trayvon?
EBONY: It seems like the jury must have believed Zimmerman.
BC: It’s unfortunate. It’s bad enough that Zimmerman profiled Trayvon, but the police profiled Trayvon too, and now the courts have allowed him to be profiled because they’ve always accepted Zimmerman’s version. They never gave Trayvon the benefit of the doubt. He’s the victim. They took the word of the killer and refused to acknowledge that he was pursuing the person who got killed. Trayvon was running away from him.
EBONY: Zimmerman’s story was that Trayvon circled back and attacked him.
BC: He had just killed the kid. What do you expect him to say? If the roles had been reversed and Trayvon had been stalking Zimmerman, I guarantee that Trayvon would have been convicted of 1st degree murder.
EBONY: There’ve been some articles published recently criticizing the prosecution and Florida attorney general Angela Corey saying that the State didn’t really go after this case like they should have.
BC: I’ve heard that a lot and let me just give my response: The family appreciates the prosecution for bringing the case because most of the prosecutors around the state of Florida never would have brought the case and that’s all we have to say. There was evidence there to convict the killer. That jury’s verdict suggests that it’s OK to profile Trayvon, a Back kid who did absolutely nothing wrong besides walking home and defending himself.
EBONY: What is the Trayon Martin Foundation?
BC: [The foundation] is a non-profit organization set up by his mother and father based in Miami. The foundation is working to amend the Stand Your Ground Laws and make a “Trayvon Martin amendment” which says that you can’t pursue someone, you can’t be the initial aggressor and start the confrontation, kill somebody and then claim that you were standing your ground. The foundation is educating people about profiling of every kind, whether race, religion or sexual orientation, and it is trying to make sure that there are resources for families of the victims of senseless gun violence.
Makkada B. Selah is a journalist based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.