Skip to main content

Zimmerman jury selection all about race

By Mark NeJame, CNN Contributor
June 12, 2013 -- Updated 1346 GMT (2146 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Race has been an issue in the Trayvon Martin killing since the incident
  • Mark NeJame says lawyers may deny it, but they will focus on race in picking a jury
  • Sanford, Florida, has a history of racial tension, he says
  • NeJame: The prosecution of George Zimmerman has become a lightning rod for that tension

Editor's note: Mark NeJame is a CNN legal analyst and contributor and has practiced law, mainly as a criminal defense attorney, for more than 30 years. He is the founder and senior partner of NeJame, LaFay, Jancha, Ahmed, Barker and Joshi PA in Orlando. Follow him on Twitter: @marknejame

(CNN) -- On February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman, a Hispanic Neighborhood Watch volunteer at the Retreat at Twin Lakes housing complex in Sanford, Florida, shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American 17-year-old.

Initially, Zimmerman was not arrested, and no charges were brought against him. Rallies, protests and a media firestorm followed, even eliciting a comment from President Obama that "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."

The Rev. Al Sharpton came to Sanford and admonished residents that they were "risking going down as the Birmingham and Selma of the 21st century" if nothing was done.

Mark NeJame
Mark NeJame

Benjamin Crump, one of the attorneys representing Martin's parents and an instrumental advocate for bringing charges against Zimmerman after they were initially declined, maintains that the case is about civil rights.

Whether the killing turns out to have been racially motivated, responded to in self-defense, the act of a resident concerned about the safety of his neighborhood or the act of a trigger-happy cop wannabe, race is an inescapable issue.

In 2012: Did politics drive prosecution in Trayvon Martin case?

Sanford is the county seat of Seminole County, Florida. Although it experienced explosive growth during the economic boom and has several large, modern upscale subdivisions, it remains relatively poor.

With approximately 54,000 residents, it has a per capita income of only about $21,000, with about 18.5% of the city below the poverty line, according to the 2010 census. It is approximately 30% African-American and 20% Hispanic. It has a documented history of racial tensions between its police and its black residents.

Contrast this with Seminole County. Seminole County is more than 80% white (including white Hispanics) and only about 11% black. Overall, only 10% of the population is below the poverty line, and that factors in Sanford.

If Sanford is removed from the equation, Seminole County is overall a very affluent county, predominantly white and Republican and filled with pockets of substantial wealth and gated subdivisions. Seminole County has become more suburban, and as growth has skyrocketed, the white population has diluted the strength of Sanford's African-American vote and diminished its influence in elections.

The prosecution of Zimmerman in the Martin killing has become a lightning rod for the racial discontent that has long been brewing in Sanford. Many are invested in believing this case to be representative of the bigotry that sadly still exists in certain quarters of the town.

In 2012: Trayvon Martin shooting wasn't a case of racial profiling

A history of police indifference and societal prejudice has allowed this case, rightly or wrongly, to become the symbol for many of all things wrong with the criminal justice system and its treatment of blacks over the years, not only in Sanford but in many places throughout the country. It's a large part of the reason that there has been so much inflammatory rhetoric and passion attached to this case.

As you see the lawyers from each side pick a jury over the next week or two, don't believe for a second that they are unaware of the strong racial issues that divide opinions.

A deadly combination - guns and 'stand your ground'

The chances of the defense seeking a black juror, especially one from Sanford, are slim. Conversely, the prosecution will do all it can to select such a juror. Neither will acknowledge that race is a factor in their selection, but they know the history, the passions and the statistics. Don't kid yourself for a minute that they don't.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark NeJame.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 2209 GMT (0609 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1802 GMT (0202 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1900 GMT (0300 HKT)
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2040 GMT (0440 HKT)
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1401 GMT (2201 HKT)
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1232 GMT (2032 HKT)
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 1805 GMT (0205 HKT)
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT