Zimmerman verdict reveals flawed jury selection process

A jury comprised of five white women and one Latina has acquitted George Zimmerman on all charges. This outcome was largely determined by the way we select juries in America.

Imagine that two women who looked like Trayvon Martin were part of the deliberation. Can you imagine an acquittal under those circumstances? I can’t.

I have argued that a jury of women who look like the accused would have a hard time finding him guilty of anything. I wasn’t suggesting that these women were overt, old-school racists. I was simply suggesting that they would find it hard to identify with the victim.

Zimmerman should have been convicted of manslaughter because, for no discernible reason, he saw an unarmed back adolescent as a threat and, contrary to instructions from law enforcement, decided to pursue him.

What did Zimmerman think his pursuit of Martin would accomplish? The scenario Zimmerman created by his rash actions inevitably lead to a confrontation that was almost certain to end in violence. The responsibility for this outcome rests with the now-acquitted man who drove the action.

Two Black jurors, male or female, would have interpreted the scene from the perspective of the victim. They would have naturally identified with those emotions in a way that, tragically, few white people can.

Precisely because the women who acquitted Mr. Zimmerman are not racists in the conventional sense, they would have benefited from this counsel and voted accordingly. Unfortunately people who naturally identified with the victim were systematically excluded from the jury room.

But the problem isn’t just racial composition. To get onto this jury you had to convince a judge, a prosecutor and a defense attorney that you knew next to nothing about the Trayvon Martin case.

In theory, an ill-informed jury is an objective jury. In reality, an ill-informed jury is a disengaged and ignorant jury.

By placing a premium on clueless ignorance, the court determined that nobody who looked like Trayvon Martin would survive the voir dire gauntlet. The only Black people in Florida who knew nothing about this case were in a coma.

The quest for out-of-touch jurors didn’t just give us a bunch of not-the-sharpest-knife-in-the-drawer white people, it also gave us jurors with a low level of social awareness. Anyone who cares about justice and basic fairness, regardless of race, was aware of this case. Exclude all of these people and you end up with folks short on empathy. Empathy is learned in the give and take of social encounter, and these women dropped that class. They aren’t bad people. I’m sure they did their best to render to a just verdict. I wouldn’t be surprised if tears were shed in the juror room.

They simply weren’t up for a demanding job.

That’s why I say the outcome of this case was determined by the jury selection process. Mistakes were made by the prosecution, certainly.

Zimmerman may have been guilty of second degree murder, but the facts were too fuzzy to make a persuasive case. The prosecution should have emphasized the facts that are not in dispute, facts that, properly interpreted, make a strong case for manslaughter.

Defense counsel made a strong appeal to actual innocence. When the facts are ambiguous, it is a defense attorney’s job to counter the prosecution’s claim of guilt with an unambiguous insistence on innocence. That was done, and it was effective.

But the prosecution was always tacking into the wind on this one. When you’ve got a jury of nice, earnest women who are largely detached from social reality this is the kind of verdict you can expect.

This blog was previously published as an ABPnews blog.

Alan Bean

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About the Author
Alan is executive director of Friends of Justice, an organization that creates a powerful synergy between grassroots organizing, civil rights advocacy, the legal community, the mass media and ultimately the political establishment. Friends of Justice is committed to building a new moral consensus for ending mass incarceration and mass deportation. Dr. Bean lectures frequently at universities, legal conferences, churches and community organizations on the issues of mass incarceration, drug policy and criminal justice reform. He has been quoted extensively in leading publications such as Newsweek, The Washington Post, USA Today, La Monde and The Chicago Tribune and CNN and his work with Friends of Justice been featured in the religious media outlets such as EthicsDaily.com and the Associated Baptist Press. Dr. Bean is the author of "Taking out the Trash in Tulia, Texas," an insider account of the events surrounding the Tulia drug sting. He lives in Arlington, Texas with his wife Nancy, a special education counselor and is a member of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth.

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  • tenor2

    This is Dr. Bean’s second try at making a case for the six woman Zimmerman jury judging not on the facts, eye witnesses, forensic evidence and the only rational, believable scenario of how this tragic event went down, but on purely emotional, wishful thinking that a young black boy should not have died and someone should be punished.
    Such is the stuff of the liberal mind: Emotion trumps facts and reason; logic takes a back seat to how-it-should-be; reality is not valid in an idealized world.
    Well, sir, life is about choices, and choices have consequences. Martin did not choose to die in a violent encounter, but that was the tragic consequence of his choice to be frequently high on a codeine cocktail proven to cause violent outbursts in some cases.

  • Empiric Smear

    To convict of involuntary manslaughter in Florida, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant displayed “culpable negligence”, a ‘disregard for human life while engaging in wanton or reckless behavior’. For example, if Zimmerman’s gun had been drawn and had discharged while chasing Trayvon.

    Zimmerman’s decision to pursue Travyon was not wanton or reckless. He drew his weapon and used it in self-defense only after being attacked. Note that Trayvon did not have any wounds other than the gunshot, which we would reasonably expect to find if Zimmerman had initiated the fight. The fight went on for a long while before the shot was fired. It’s also interesting to note that Trayvon initially ran away and could have easily went to his home, which was only a few blocks away. But instead he turned around and decided to assault Zimmerman, which is why Zimmerman acted in self-defense.

    And, despite your claim, Zimmerman *had* a discernible reason to pursue him: There had been 8 robberies in his community, and he was on the community watch. He noticed a suspicious person who ran away after hearing him on the phone with the police. He pursued in an attempt to keep an eye on him until the cops arrived. Despite the fact that the 911 dispatcher instructed Zimmerman not to pursue, Zimmerman broke no laws by pursing Trayvon. Also note that Zimmerman did not immediately know what race Trayvon was; in the 911 call, when asked, he paused for a few seconds before answering “I think he’s black”.

    It’s interesting to note that the author of this blog article is displaying a racism of his own. Without any facts or evidence to back him up, he denounces the jury’s capabilities only on the basis of their race. “Two Black jurors, male or female, would have interpreted the scene from the perspective of the victim. They would have naturally identified with those emotions in a way that, tragically, few white people can.” Are you suggesting that white people cannot identify with a victim, because they are too ‘detached from social reality?’ You claim this without knowing anything about the jury except their race. This is an example of profiling.

  • Empiric Smear

    To convict of involuntary manslaughter in Florida, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant displayed “culpable negligence”, a ‘disregard for human life while engaging in wanton or reckless behavior’. For example, if Zimmerman’s gun had been drawn and had discharged while chasing Trayvon.

    Zimmerman’s decision to pursue Travyon was not wanton or reckless. He drew his weapon and used it in self-defense only after being attacked. Note that Trayvon did not have any wounds other than the gunshot, which we would reasonably expect to find if Zimmerman had initiated the fight. The fight went on for a long while before the shot was fired. It’s also interesting to note that Trayvon initially ran away and could have easily went to his home, which was only a few blocks away. But instead he turned around and decided to assault Zimmerman, which is why Zimmerman acted in self-defense.

    And, despite your claim, Zimmerman *had* a discernible reason to pursue him: There had been 8 robberies in his community, and he was on the community watch. He noticed a suspicious person who ran away after hearing him on the phone with the police. He pursued in an attempt to keep an eye on him until the cops arrived. Despite the fact that the 911 dispatcher instructed Zimmerman not to pursue, Zimmerman broke no laws by pursing Trayvon. Also note that Zimmerman did not immediately know what race Trayvon was; in the 911 call, when asked, he paused for a few seconds before answering “I think he’s black”.

    It’s interesting to note that the author of this blog article is displaying a racism of his own. Without any facts or evidence to back him up, he denounces the jury’s capabilities only on the basis of their race. “Two Black jurors, male or female, would have interpreted the scene from the perspective of the victim. They would have naturally identified with those emotions in a way that, tragically, few white people can.” Are you suggesting that white people cannot identify with a victim, because they are too ‘detached from social reality?’ You claim this without knowing anything about the jury except their race. This is an example of profiling.