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What if Zimmerman gets an all white jury?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 5/2/2012, 8:18 a.m.

In three major racially charged cases in past years where blacks were the victims either beaten or killed by white cops Rodney King, Oscar Grant and Sean Bell, defense attorneys depicted all three men as the aggressors who posed a threat to the officers. They played up and exaggerated their run-ins with the law to depict young blacks as crime prone, menacing figures. The idea was to subtly and openly play on the prejudices, stereotypes, and negative beliefs of many white jurors toward young blacks.

Even when the victim has no criminal record and poses no threat to officers, the negative racial typecast still kicks in. This was the case when white jurors acquitted the four New York City cops tried for gunning down African immigrant Amadou Diallo in 1999. They claimed that they feared for their lives.

Legal experts blame the paucity of blacks on many juries not on deliberate racial discrimination, but on the paltry number of blacks in the jury pool, changing demographics (the city is majority Hispanic, Asian and white), and the failure of blacks to heed jury summons.

This begs the issue. It doesn’t much matter how few or how many blacks are in the jury pool, if prosecutors (or defense attorneys when the accused is white and victim black) use a storehouse of challenges, questionnaires and profiles to systematically strike blacks from a jury. And sometimes, they don’t even bother with the ploys.

The Dallas Morning News revealed in 2006 that Dallas prosecutors systematically dumped blacks from juries for years. The Supreme Court tossed the conviction of Texas death row inmate Thomas Miller-El based on a Dallas prosecutor’s brazen racial jury sanitizing. Yet prosecutors still try to get as many whites, and as few blacks as possible, on juries.

The Zimmerman case jury may be fair and impartial. But to pretend that racial bias doesn’t exist in racially charged trials is self-serving and dangerous. His case could again cast an ugly glare on jury race bias.


Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.