Trayvon Martin’s family attorney Benjamin Crump advised his parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, to leave the courtroom the day jurors announced a verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. Martin’s parents were driving to Miami when the verdict was announced. “They were devastated,” Crump tells ESSENCE.com two days after Zimmerman, 29, was found not guilty in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon.
Having been sequestered during the trial, Crump remained relatively silent throughout the two-week proceedings. He spoke with ESSENCE.com about the moments leading up to verdict, what the Martin family plans to do next and his advice for protestors.
ESSENCE: I’d like to get a feeling of what you and the Martin family are going through right now.
BENJAMIN CRUMP: Well, we were devastated and heartbroken over the verdict. I think Sybrina [Fulton] said it best when she called me Sunday morning after church. She said, ‘I cried, I prayed then I cried some more. Cried myself to sleep. But attorney Crump, I will not let this verdict define Trayvon Martin. We will define Trayvon Martin’s legacy.’ I was blown away. We’ve come a long away, but now we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and get to work because we’ve got to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anybody else’s child. Trayvon’s parents understand that they can’t get him back, but realize the impact this has on other children like him. This could have been anybody’s child.
ESSENCE: Where were you when the verdict was announced? What went through your mind?
CRUMP: I was in the courtroom. It was sad to me because you want to believe in the concept of equal justice and think it works the same for everybody. But it’s like [Florida] prosecutor John Guy said, if the roles were reversed and it was Trayvon Martin who profiled and followed George Zimmerman, what would your verdict be then? We all know that Trayvon would have been convicted of first-degree murder, not second-degree. It really broke my heart into so many pieces because the verdict almost suggested that we shouldn’t get our hopes up.
ESSENCE: Where do you think things went wrong?
CRUMP: I want to be consistent and say that we respect the rule of law. We asked for the process to be fair and transparent. And so, we want people to respect the rule of law. I always tell people there’s no guarantee at justice, only a chance at justice. There was a reason we wanted the Department of Justice to get involved. We wanted this to be federal because we understand that there’s a lot of small town justice and politics at play in a small community. For the life of me I’ve never seen a police officer so willing to give testimony favorable to the defense. [Editor’s note: He is referring to Detective Chris Serino]
I just think that what they meant for bad, God meant for good and we fight on. It’s like Trayvon’s father Tracy said: ‘I’m heartbroken but I have not lost my will to fight on.’ What is troubling is that what this [verdict] says is that I have the right to profile and then follow anybody I deem suspicious. You are now telling us that our children can be profiled and pursued by any neighborhood watch or any Tom, Dick or Harry who’s packing a gun. The State Supreme Court said you can’t profile people, but now this is saying a regular citizen can profile. We now turn to the federal government and the Department of Justice to answer the question. We just want to know what the rules are, because this verdict is saying anyone can take the law into their own hands even though they’re untrained. If this is not the case, then we want to ensure that a federal civil rights charge is made so the precedence won’t be set that you can do this.
ESSENCE: What is your advice to people on the streets protesting about the verdict?
CRUMP: They’ve got to continue to be vocal and vigilant and keep demanding that the Department of Justice bring charges so we can answer this larger question because the conversation has evolved. Initially, we were talking about equal justice. Now we have an even more critical question, which is, can you profile our children? Furthermore, people should know that on August 24, which is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III and Dr. Bernice King are going to make justice for Trayvon Martin the focal point of the march. Trayvon and the many unknown Trayvon’s. It is a march of action. We are trying to get half a million people to Washington D.C.
ESSENCE: The Department of Justice announced that they would be reviewing the case. Does that leave you hopeful?
CRUMP: Yes, but we can’t get complacent. The Department of Justice says a lot. These investigations can go on for a year and half and everyone can forget and the department doesn’t do anything. What we’ve got to do is say: Alright, you’ve got all the evidence. Let’s talk about timetables and whatever else you need so we can remain engaged. Just tells us, Department of Justice, is the rule going to be that our children can be hunted down like this? If that’s the case, then we all need to have alternatives to protect ourselves.