The line is from a song by Billy Bragg. I came across it on my facebook feed when a friend of mine posted it as his status shortly after the man who killed Trayvon Martin was acquitted of murder. Just then, there were a lot of people voicing their anger and frustration at the verdict —to which I couldn’t add a lot. To the lyric fragment my friend had posted I responded with a line my dad used to use quite a bit —when confronted with a sober truth well phrased— “more truth than poetry to that, I’m afraid.”
There wasn’t any justice for Trayvon Martin in that Florida courtroom. There was the law. I didn’t sit on the jury. I didn’t even play particularly close attention to the news coverage of the trial. From what I had managed to notice it seemed the prosecution hadn’t really succeeded in disproving the defense version of events, which by the law left reasonable doubt as to his guilt of the crime as charged. Trayvon Martin’s killer was found not guilty. I was not surprised… Not guilty —not the same as innocent.
I served as a juror on a murder trial once, years back. It was a particularly ugly brutal killing. The defendant was odious, his attorney unctuous, nevertheless the defense managed what it had set out to do, or the prosecution had failed, and we the jury ended up having to settle upon a second degree conviction. I remember the judge came and spoke to us before we were dismissed and several of us voiced our frustration at finding as we had to while wanting to see the killer punished to the limit the law allowed.
I was reminded of that experience when the verdict came down last week. The letter of the law versus justice. Maybe that’s one lesson to take from the sad story of Trayvon Martin’s death. Justice is a perfect idea and our courts and our laws are imperfect, as imperfect as we are. Maybe that’s the sad and sober truth —and the poetry lacks.