As the Seminole County Courthouse in Sanford, Fla., wrapped up jury selection for the Trayvon Martin case on Thursday, the protest area outside has been relatively quiet -- with the exception of one man.
Since June 11, Garry Jones -- born and raised in Kinston -- has been outside the courthouse with a sign and silently protesting for justice in the death of the 17-year old Martin, killed last year by George Zimmerman.
Jones -- a graduate of Kinston High School in 1982 -- came from Atlanta and has been staging a silent protest each day with plans to continue for weeks to come.
"I plan on staying here until July 10, but will extend my stay until the trial is over," Jones said. "I haven't been real loud; I just go to the area and protest."
Jones said he has garnered quite a bit of attention in the local area, with media questioning him for usually being the only person protesting. The additional attention hasn't affected Jones, who is happy to explain himself.
"When I go out there, sometimes news crews flock around me asking, 'Why are you protesting by yourself?' " Jones said. "I tell them, 'You don't need a large crowd.' I do it privately and walk around with my sign. When my back hurts, I'll just sit down and hold my sign."
Jones was in Florida last year when the news broke about Martin's death; he watched the developments while in the hospital.
"I was recovering from surgery and saw the news about the young guy being murdered," Jones said. "I started reading and doing my own investigation. In my opinion, a young kid was murdered because he was running in his neighborhood to get home in the rain. I've done that a couple times myself and I felt as though George Zimmerman was wrong for what he did."
Jones graduated with a criminal justice degree from N.C. Central University in 1986 and started his post-college career as a correctional officer in Lorton, Va. in 1987. Jones was transferred to Raleigh in 1988, becoming a case manager in 1989.
He took the same job in Goldsboro in 1990, but went back to being a correctional officer at the Federal Bureau of Prisons at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base the following year. After becoming a lieutenant in 1993, Jones moved to Tallahassee, Fla. in 1995 as a senior lieutenant, retiring in 2003. After retirement, he moved to Atlanta.
Jones formed his opinion on the Martin and Zimmerman case with knowledge of the situation, education and his experience as an officer.
"As an investigator, we always look into the mind state of an individual, and I didn't see one of a kid trying to cause controversy," Jones said. "George did the right thing by calling 911, but profiled Trayvon into someone who was doing something strange and on drugs. The police told George not to pursue Trayvon, plus he had a gun.
"I was disappointed because George used (Florida's) Stand Your Ground law as a means of self-defense and I think Trayvon was getting the best of him in the struggle. If someone approached me like George did Trayvon, I would feel inclined to defend myself."
Upon retiring in 2003, Jones founded his organization, Advocate 4 Justice, with a mission to raise awareness on a need to reinstate parole within the prison system and the fairness of giving people a second chance.
"The reason I created my organization was because I saw injustice in the justice system," Jones said. "Right now, the scales of justice are upside-down. I'm trying to get the scales to where everyone can get a fair shot. In 2013, we're still marching and for what? Our ancestors laid down the foundation. Why do we still have to march? Why doesn't the criminal justice system do their job?"
Jones has written three books based on life experiences and injustice: "Straight Out Of Hell I: Wrong Place, Wrong Time," "Straight Out of Hell II: The True Character of a Man" and "I Wasn't Raised to Play By Their Rules." The books can be found online through Amazon, Books-A-Million.
Jones is working on a yet-to-be-named fourth book, explaining his bout with prostate cancer in 2010. The cancer was removed in 2011 and Jones gets a checkup every six months.
"This book is going to educate people about prostate cancer, encouraging men to get checkups," Jones said of his new endeavor. "It's a self-help book with details about what I went through, including when I almost died because it spread and the recovery."
For now, with his health intact, Jones continues to silently protest. Although Jones has been out each day, he hasn't dealt with any hassle from authority or citizens.
"So far, so good," Jones said. "The policemen have been friendly and there haven't been any violent outbreaks at all. I don't know whether it will be the same when opening statements are read, but I'll be there to witness them."
Junious Smith III can be reached at 252-559-1077 and Junious.Smith@Kinston.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JuniousSmithIII.
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