When it comes to the issues of race, diversity and justice, just what exactly do we take away from the George Zimmerman trial of earlier this month?
In many ways, we are left with what we already knew. That in too many high-profile trials with racial overtones and social undercurrents, a common belief is that jurors of a particular race will protect defendants of their same race. Many of us believe it was true in the O.J. Simpson trial when a predominately black jury acquitted the former football great of murdering his wife and her friend. And many others believe the same to be true of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Unfortunately, this belief that jurors protect their own race when the races of the victim and defendant are different, is not just a belief. It’s scientifically proved. And it’s not just in high-profile cases. What’s even more disturbing is that it is black defendants who usually end up disproportionately on the short end of justice. Although Congress outlawed race-based jury selection in 1875, there is continued under-representation of African-Americans in jury selection. In fact, prosecutors in as many as 80 percent of some counties in the South effectively exclude black people from jury selection through preemptory challenges and other legal maneuvers. This phenomena is further aided by the propensity of blacks – in disproportionately high numbers – not reporting for jury duty or seeking exemptions. As a result, the criminal justice system is rife with racial bigotry, racial discrimination and biased outcomes.
This connection between jury selection and jury verdicts is what psychologists call “in-group, out-group bias”: the tendency of racial groups to judge members of their own group more favorably, and other groups more harshly. Simply put, when there are all-white or mostly white jurors, black defendants get harsher sentences, and white defendants get more lenient sentences. Conversely, all-black or predominately black jurors tend to be more favorable to black dependents than white defendants, thus lawyers’ make deliberate efforts to exclude as many blacks from juries as possible..
Listening to how Zimmerman Juror B-37 identified so favorably with Zimmerman in recent televised interviews, I strongly suspect that some elements of “in-group out-group bias” were at play in his trial.
The only solution to “in-group out-group bias” is, in a word, accountability. African-Americans and caucasians must hold themselves accountable for the disparities which plague our legal justice system as well as our society. The reason we continue to have bigotry, prejudice, racial hatred and bias in this country is because we are so busy accusing and excusing.
If we are to solve the race problem in this country, we must look ourselves squarely in the eye, make ourselves accountable and admit that we all play a part in the problem. We, African-Americans, must hold ourselves accountable for the violence and self-hatred we perpetuate against each other, the drugs we sell to each other, and the gangs we join to fight and kill each other. But it’s easier to accuse whites of racism.
By the same token, white America must look itself in the eye and admit that institutional racism is alive and well, then take efforts to root it out at it very core. Preachers, black and white, must make diversity and inclusion key elements of their ministries. We all must stop standing silently by as racial intolerance and bigotry thrive. We all must assume our responsibilities of eliminating racial prejudice, division and, yes, favoritism in our own respective communities.
The question most have been asking is “if the George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martins roles had been racially reversed would the Zimmerman verdict have been different?”
That is not the question I choose to ask. The question I choose to ask is, “if the jury had been more diverse, more inclusive of minorities and men, how different would the outcome have been?”
REV. JAMES HULL is an award-wining journalist and a political consultant. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.