By Alan Bean
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 black 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 led 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.