Race, Gender and the Zimmerman Trial

Now that the selection of the jury has been completed, the trial of George Zimmerman for shooting African American teenager Trayvon Martin is even more likely to be the most racially charged trail since that of O.J. Simpson. What’s more, gender will now be important as well.

Much to the disappointment of Martin’s family and civil rights advocates, the jury will include absolutely no African Americans. In addition, none of the four alternate jurors are African American. According to census figures, Florida’s Seminole County, where the trial will take place, is 11% African American.

As recently as fifty years ago, Florida did not even allow women to serve on juries, but, in the Zimmerman trial, all of the jurors will be women. Five of the six jurors have children, and two of the four alternate jurors are also women with children.

In an ideal world, the race and gender of the jurors in a trial such as Zimmerman’s would make no difference. However, Jose Baez, lead counsel in the successful defense of Casey Anthony for killing her daughter Caylee, said the racial make-up of the Zimmerman jury made the case a “slam dunk” for the defense. Widener Law Professor Jules Epstein, meanwhile, argued that the female jurors would be especially sympathetic to the loss of a child and therefore would empathize with Martin’s grieving mother.

I lack the experience to make an intelligent prediction about either the outcome of the trial or the significance race and gender will have in that outcome. Nevertheless, I’m certain that considerations of race and gender will be important in the court of public opinion. Despite ideological pronouncements that all are equal in the eyes of the law, the American public does not take this to actually be true. Americans believe that race, gender, and wealth are major factors in what the legal system produces and invites us to take as “justice.”


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