Of 29 people who’ve moved on to the second round of the jury selection process in the Zimmerman trial, 19 are white, 6 are black, 2 are Hispanic, and 1 is Asian. Twenty are women. Seminole County is 66% non-Hispanic white, 11% black, and 17% Hispanic. So whites are represented among the potential jury pool in line with their county population; blacks are overrepresented by about ten percentage points, and Hispanics are underrepresented by about the same.
One possible explanation for the overrepresentation of blacks among the jury pool (news reporter Tony Pipitone noted that by his count 30% of the potential jurors present before questionnaires were turned in were black) is that blacks are much more interested in the trial than whites. According to a Pew poll last year, 58% of blacks and 24% of whites were following the case closely. The greater general interest may have translated into more blacks in the jury pool.
Patrick Bayer and Randi Hjalmarrson have a paper out that happened to look at how the racial makeup of jury pools influenced verdicts for white and black defendants. They found in two Florida counties of relatively low black population (about 5%) that when no black jurors were present in the jury pool for felony charges that 81% of black defendants and 66% of white defendants were convicted. When at least one black person was present in the pool there was a 71% conviction rate for blacks and a 73% conviction rate for whites.
Applying those findings to the Zimmerman trial (maybe not a wise move but this is for entertainment purposes only) it would seem that Zimmerman would get as fair (or unfair) a shake as anyone else.
Of course, there are other confounders in this case. I asked Hjalmarrson whether we could make any inferences in cases of self-defense and where a non-black person claims to have killed a black person in self-defense. Not surprisingly, no research has been done on this question though Hjalmarrson thinks it’s an interesting one worth future research.
One explanation Hjalmarrson had for the mechanism here, which she reminded is correlation and not causation, was that the presence of blacks in the jury pool has a direct effect for obvious reasons: greater potential for black jurors. But the presence of black jurors – or just one – has an indirect impact because attorneys might move to strike them during voir dire (not legal when based purely on race) thus throwing away one of their limited number of peremptory challenges aka lifelines. The presence of black jurors in the pool can essentially skew the verdicts handed down, in general, when a black juror is merely present in the pool.
I didn’t ask, and I doubt there is research on this yet, the elasticity of the number of blacks in the jury pool. If just one black pool juror has such a big effect, how much impact will 2, 5, 10 have on verdicts?
Kareem Jordan of the University of Central Florida has a paper out looking at the perceptions of whether or not race played a part in Zimmerman’s killing of Martin. He found that whites and Hispanics were much less likely to believe that than did blacks. It’s not surprising that blacks would feel that way, as Jordan and everyone else will note, but he was surprised that Hispanics didn’t feel the same way as blacks:
Unlike some previous studies examining crime and race, Hispanics didn’t overwhelmingly perceive that race played a role in the shooting. Their perceptions were more in line with whites.
As for why Hispanics differed when past studies have indicated they tend to align more with perceptions of blacks, Jordan wasn’t sure.
“It certainly is an area ripe for more research,” Jordan said. “The current immigration crisis may add to the perception of criminal injustice. Over time, that may lead to a decreased sense of procedural justice. If this happens, it is likely that Hispanic perceptions on killings such as Martin’s will become closer to the views of blacks. Only time will tell.”
Ninety percent of blacks, 68% of whites, and 74% of Hispanics in Jordan’s sample – taken from a USA Today/Gallup poll – believed that race played a role in the shooting. Eighty-one percent of blacks, 40% of whites, and 51% of Hispanics believed that Zimmerman would have been arrested if Martin had been white (cite
). It shouldn’t be that hard to understand why the half-white/half-Hispanic Zimmerman would be less vilified among whites and Hispanics.