On the day that the jury was officially selected for the murder trial of George Zimmerman, I was infuriated. I wasn’t particularly surprised. But I was pissed.
I posted about it on Facebook…
And it led to a “lively” discussion.
More than anything, the discussion was characterized by White folks (folks I love and trust) expressing confusion or anger that I thought the trial might be unfair because of the race of the selected jury.
So I had to be clear: It’s not that I think all White folks (or even the White folks in the South) are a bunch of card-carrying members of the KKK who will cheer at the chance to let a White man off the hook for murdering a Black teenager.
And there are in fact White folks out there who could see through the attempts by the defense to discredit witnesses of Color and to paint Trayvon Martin as a “thug.”
But you can bet your bottom dollar that those White folks are not on that jury.
Because just as they ensured that every single potential juror of Color save one was sent out of that courtroom, the defense would use voir dire to eliminate (without any need for an explanation, may I remind you) any White juror that they think has a critical understanding of race and racism in the United States.
For let’s be clear: as much as the defense tries to make this a trial about “self defense,” this is a trial about racism and the White racial frame.
And because they know this trial is about race and racism, the defense wanted to make sure that their jury was stacked with people who firmly believe the colorblind trope that “racism would just go away if we stopped talking about race.”
In short, they were looking for the average White person.
So we need to prepare ourselves for an acquittal.
Because the fact that Zimmerman’s jury consists of 5 White people and 1 Latina tells us a few things.
1. Consensus Favors Zimmerman
Because the jury has to come to consensus about their verdict, a predominantly White jury without a critical analysis of how race played into Trayvon’s murder is FAR more likely to acquit Zimmerman after hearing the defense’s story that he was attacked violently by an “inner-city thug.”
Yup . . . Rioting.
Having sat through countless tiresome consensus processes at a Quaker college where people were, at least hypothetically, committed to consensus, I cannot IMAGINE being a juror who might have to build consensus with that woman.
After all, if she thinks that a large number of people of Color (with some White allies) congregating on her city to peacefully call for justice is “rioting,” it’s not a far leap for her (or others) to believe Trayvon Martin was anything but an innocent victim of racial profiling.
2. Privilege Conceals Itself…
I cannot stress it enough: Privilege conceals itself from those who have it.
I am someone with a tremendous amount of privilege, and I like to think that I’m pretty good at seeing and checking my privilege, yet I screw up regularly!
And that’s because that any time a person has identity privilege, it is a necessary function of our system that such privilege be concealed from those who have it so that it can go on benefitting that class of people.
After all, the very existence of identity privilege challenges the deeply-held belief that the United States is a meritocracy, that I do not get anything that I don’t earn. So if privilege is obvious to those who have it, the emperor has no clothes!
And one incredibly important privilege that White people often don’t know they have is that we are not, by in large, subjected to constant surveillance and policing at the hands of a White power structure that seeks to maintain power by controlling our bodies and, in turn, our lives.
To far too many White people, it makes sense that if you see a “strange” Black person in your neighborhood, you would call 911 and follow them on your vigilante horse with your pistol ready. After all, who has our media taught us since birth are the ones to be feared in society!?
And far too few White people are going to understand the experience of witnesses like Rachel Jeantel. After all, her pain and frustration (likely to be displayed by anyone who must testify in the murder of their close friend) is likely to be interpreted as her being “angry or combative.” The fact that she speaks differently than White America must mean that she’s “illiterate.”
And, in one of the most obvious ways that White folks will eat up the defense’s attempts to discredit her story, White people are not likely to understand her distrust of police. So when the defense pushes Rachel Jeantel on why she didn’t go to the police after her phone call with Trayvon was cut off, White folks cannot FATHOM why a Black woman wouldn’t seek out police.
This makes no sense to the average White person other than to confirm that Black people are dangerous, so police don’t trust them:
“I live in America.”
Distrust in police stems from decades of being disenfranchised and treated unfairly by those who were supposed to protect us. And yes, I’m taking it there…distrust in white people. Government. LAPD. NYPD. Most recently, the White Plains police department in Westchester County, NY who murdered an innocent black man named Kenneth Chamberlain when his Life Aid medical necklace was inadvertently triggered and they were summoned to his home. And just last week, the police officer in Detroit, Michigan who shot and killed 7-year-old Aiyana Jones was set free after a mistrial. Not to mention the killers of Amadou Diallo or the torturers of Abner Louiama.
The point is, black people can understand Rachel’s hesitancy when it came to contacting the police because the fear and doubt that comes with dealing with law enforcement is as entwined into the tapestry of our culture as is our slavery past.
Too often people of any kind of identity privilege don’t know what we don’t know. And in this case, it could lead to an acquittal.
3. The Empathy Gap
Simply put, when the jury looks at Zimmerman’s injuries from the night he murdered Trayvon Martin, they are likely to weigh those more heavily and with more empathy than what Trayvon experienced, than any of the pain and anguish his friends or family are experiencing, or than the pain ANY Black person is capable of experiencing.
Seems extreme, right? Well, research indicates that the lighter the skin color of a person experiencing pain, the more likely an outside observer is to take that pain seriously. And while both Black and White people struggle with this “empathy gap,” a Black person is also more likely to be able to see themselves in the victim when the victim is Black than a White person ever could.
Thus, our conditioning – that Black pain is somehow less important or that Black people are somehow able to endure more pain – ensures that a jury with NO Black folks on it is more likely to empathize with the photos of Zimmerman’s injuries, despite being told by a medical professional that his injuries were “insignificant.”
4. The Problem with All-White Juries
A 2012 study from Duke University found that all-White juries are significantly more likely to convict a Black defendant of a crime than a White defendant. The study, not ironically, was conducted in Florida.
What does this tell us? Well, if the races of the victim and the defendant were reversed, George Zimmerman would be SIGNIFICANTLY more likely to go to jail than he is right now. And if he IS convicted, George Zimmerman is likely to receive a much lighter sentence because of the color of his skin.
If there’s a glimmer of hope in these studies it’s that the Duke research tells us that having even ONE Black juror can even the playing field for Black defendants, so maybe the one Latina defendant offers some hope, but I’m not holding my breath.
We’re Not Post-Racial
I honestly wish that my White friends were right. I wish that Zimmerman’s almost all-White jury wouldn’t weigh on whether this murderer is locked up for good. But no matter how much we may wish it to be true, we’re not post-racial.
We live in the context of the prison industrial complex as the New Jim Crow. We live in the context of a media barrage that tells us to fear Black men and to trust the criminal “justice” system. We live in the context of the most powerful and pervasive system of racism and White supremacy in the history of the world. And all of that is not undone by passing the
Voting Rights Act Civil Rights Act and washing our hands.
So I am praying for a conviction. But I am preparing for an acquittal.