Monday, July 15, 2013

Race, Justice, and Trayvon Martin


MSNBC has published my op-ed on the Trayvon Martin tragedy. The essay explores the volatile discussion of race as it pertains to Martin's death and Zimmerman's acquittal. Here is a snippet:
Criminal law research has shown that in tough cases, implicit biases regarding race, gender, class and other factors, often, but not always, allow jurors to fill in evidentiary gaps. This research makes room for a discussion of race in the decision by a nearly all-white jury to acquit Zimmerman.
There was enough circumstantial and direct evidence presented in the trial for a reasonable juror to find that Zimmerman initiated physically aggressive contact with Martin. This finding would virtually negate Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense. Zimmerman admitted that he followed a much younger Martin in his car at night in the rain. Martin was walking home while having a telephone conversation with a friend. As he pursued Martin, Zimmerman muttered angry statements about criminals “always getting away” with their crimes.
Zimmerman, however, killed the most reliable eyewitness for the prosecution. Accordingly, the prosecution lacked direct evidence about what actually occurred when Martin and Zimmerman first met. As a result, a rational juror has room to make inferences based on all of the evidence. A juror could rationally conclude that after getting out of his car and following Martin, Zimmerman either attacked or frightened the teen. This finding would have legitimated Martin’s use of force against Zimmerman. On the other hand, a rational juror could decide not to reach such a conclusion, due to the lack of direct evidence. Circumstantial evidence is indisputably evidence, but it is not always enough for jurors.
Outside of the requirement of reasonable doubt, no rules dictate which choice jurors must make. So long as the verdict is reasonable in light of the evidence, the jury has satisfactorily executed its duty. Moreover, the prosecution cannot appeal an acquittal or demand that the jury explain its decision.
Psychological data regarding non-conscious bias suggests that people often rely unknowingly on cultural biases to make a decision in close cases. Because black men are pervasively depicted as violent and threatening, unconscious stereotyping could lead a fair-minded juror, in a tough case, to dismiss the victim status of a black male decedent and to treat him, instead, as the aggressor. This same research could explain why Zimmerman believed that Martin was “up to no good.”
To view the remainder, please visit MSNBC at this link. Make sure to share and comment as well.  

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