I started this article over a year ago, when the wounds of Trayvon Martin’s death were still fresh. I never finished it, in part, because the emotions were still so raw. There hadn’t been enough time to process what had happened to that young man who only wanted to get back home with his Skittles & tea and watch basketball, only rage and disgust. Then there was the feeling that nagged me, a sense that Trayvon Martin’s killer might get off. The rage and disgust are gone–not gone, never gone–subsided; but I still can’t shake that feeling.
Keeping up with the case, as presented so far, the prosecution has done a fine job of establishing many of the facts, but a number of the prosecution’s witnesses have played into the hands of the defense. Some of the testimony has bolstered their claims that, at the moment of the shooting, it was the killer who felt his life was in danger, that regardless to what happened prior to the shooting, the killer thought he needed to kill in order to survive.
Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter. What matters is what the
twelve six jurors believe to be true. And if we’ve learned anything after the Rodney King, OJ Simpson, Casey Anthony, and so many other trials of the recent past, juries are a tricky thing. You can, like me, listen to all of the testimony, but we’re not sitting in that jury box watching through their eyes, thinking with their minds, feeling with their hearts. Their job is not to determine whether the killing of Trayvon Martin was right or wrong, just or unjust. Their job is to determine whether the defendant abided by Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Did Trayvon Martin’s killer “reasonably believe… …it [was] necessary to [‘stand his… …ground and meet force with force, including deadly force’] to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony?” Was he within the law?
I don’t think that question is an easy one to answer for any jury, so much so that I would not be surprised by a hung jury, and I certainly wouldn’t be shocked at an acquittal. Trayvon did put up a fight, the same way I taught my children to if they were ever accosted by some creep that could have easily been a pedophile. I’d go so far as to say that Trayvon would have whipped his assailant’s ass, were it not for the gun.
So, what would that mean? Would we see rioting in the streets, again, if Trayvon’s killer is found “not guilty”? I hope not. I hope people could look past the apparent miscarriage of justice and understand that a verdict of “not guilty” is the only way to change how things are done in Florida, not to mention other states with similarly barbaric statutes.
Don’t get me wrong. Trayvon Martin deserves justice. His death is nothing less than murder, plain and simple. But too many states have essentially legalized murder with laws that allow anyone to kill anyone else on the pretext that they fear for their life. MMA training or not, there is nothing fiercer than a teenager who’s afraid for his well-being. I would have been afraid. I wouldn’t have been carrying a gun, though. A verdict of “guilty” will put the killer in jail for a bit, but it will also justify the law. Florida can say, “See, the law works.” Nothing changes, until the next poor, unsuspecting victim falls prey to an overzealous vigilante with deluded aspirations of grandeur.
The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Which outcome would be best for everyone?” Travon Martin is already a martyr. No verdict will bring back all that lost life and potential. Trayvon’s legacy will be measured in how his tragic death affects this country and its laws. While I would love to see Trayvon’s killer locked away for what he did, moving this country in a more humane direction would be the bigger prize. A verdict of “not guilty” may not accomplish that, but I think it’s the only chance. Brace yourselves.
*UPDATE/CORRECTION: Apparently, I’ve made a fatal mistake by skipping the boring voir dire/jury selection process and being unaware that Florida juries only require twelve people when defendant risks a death penalty. If you want to dismiss my arguments because of that, so be it.
Fernando Quijano III is the former President of the Maryland Writers Association, Baltimore Chapter. His work has been featured in Welter, Smile Hon, You’re in Baltimore & the poetry anthology, Life in Me Like Grass on Fire. An excerpt from his unpublished novel, Forever, Lilith was included in the Apprentice House anthology Freshly Squeezed. He has been featured at the Baltimore Book Festival, Stoop Storytelling, & The Signal on WYPR, Baltimore's local NPR station. In his spare time, Fernando volunteers to lead workshops for Writing Outside the Fence, a program for the ex-offender community, as well as at the Brock Bridge Correctional Facility. Fernando was recently awarded a B grant for his writing by the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund.