Commentary: A Need for a Jury That Reflects Sanford

Sanford is a city with a 30 percent Black population, but the jury will be picked from Seminole County, which is only 11 percent African-American.

Posted: 06/11/2013 06:01 PM EDT

SANFORD, FLORIDA


The jury selection process is underway in the trial of George Zimmerman. It is a protracted, painstaking process in which potential jurors are asked all manner of question to determine as much as can be gleaned about their possible leanings in the highly-watched trial of the man who shot an unarmed Trayvon Martin more than a year ago.

“What time of the day do you listen to NPR?” one potential juror was asked by a lawyer. “Where do you get your news?” another lawyer asked another in the jury pool. The questions are varied and represented a wide range of inquiries.

But amid the questioning, there is already an undercurrent of discomfort among many in Sanford, particularly in the African-American community. And reasonably so.

There is a growing feeling that it will be unlikely that the jury will ultimately reflect the demographics of Sanford, a city of 54,000 whose population is roughly 30 percent Black and 20 percent Hispanic. And in a case as racially charged as Florida vs. Zimmerman, the racial composition of the jury is certain to be a central issue.

At issue is the fact that the jury is selected from a pool of residents throughout Seminole County, which encompasses Sanford and many other communities and is significantly less diverse racially. The county is about 11 percent African-American and significantly more conservative than the city of Sanford.

Sanford has a per capita income of about $21,000 annually, with more than 18 percent of the city’s population living in poverty, according to the 2010 census. In the life of Sanford, tensions between the police and its residents of color are longstanding.

On the other hand, Seminole County is more than 80 percent white, with African-Americans making up just 11 percent of the population. Less than half of the county’s population lives in poverty and it is considered a relatively affluent area of Florida with lush, suburban neighborhoods.

Politically, Seminole County is also a competitively right-leaning, Republican part of the state. In last year’s election, the county voted for Mitt Romney over President Obama by a margin of 53 percent to 46 percent. It is a county with a feel of having two distinctly different sides of the tracks.

There is no question that the attorneys for George Zimmerman will try to do their best to have the jury reflect the population of Seminole County. These are residents who are most inclined to find a kindred spirit in a man who claims to have killed a Black teenager in self defense.

All of this means that the prosecution needs to be especially vigilant to ensure that Sanford itself is represented in how the jury is eventually put together. To be sure, the lawyers for Trayvon Martin’s parents are on hand to lend their advice and recommendations.

But it would be to no one’s credit, let alone the perception of justice, for the six jurors who are ultimately selected to be as broad a reflection as possible of all the components of the city of Sanford.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Fred Prouser-Pool/Getty Images)

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