Skip to main content

Zimmerman jury selection all about race

By Mark NeJame, CNN Contributor
updated 9:46 AM EDT, Wed June 12, 2013
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
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 8:12 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT