Among Black Americans, Doubts on Zimmerman Conviction Seep In

Many say that they would not be surprised if the jury fails to convict the man who shot Trayvon Martin.

Posted: 07/09/2013 05:50 PM EDT

The closing arguments in the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman have not yet begun. But in Shawn’s Barber Shop in Sanford, Florida, many of the customers have already determined what the verdict is likely to be.

“A lot of the people who come in here believe that Zimmerman is going to walk,” said Shawn Wood, the owner of the barber shop which is situated in the heart of Sanford’s Black community, speaking in an interview with BET.com.

“They think that the defense has convinced the jury that Zimmerman acted in self-defense,” Wood said. “They think that the state is kind of messing up in making its case. And also, they are listening to all the analysis that people are giving on television. I’m not saying that I feel that way, but a lot of people here do.”

In Shawn’s Barber Shop, the discussion about the George Zimmerman trial is ever-present, a daily staple of conversation. It is, after all, a significant meeting place for African-American residents of the city where the trial is taking place.

Wood’s anecdotal experience is far from unusual. From barber shops and nail salons to group conversations on social media, there seems to be a gradual resignation among African-American trial watchers that Zimmerman’s lawyers may have commanded the upper hand in the second-degree murder trial in the death of Trayvon Martin.

Some say it reflects the cynicism they feel about the ability of the American criminal justice system to value African-American life in the way it does the lives of white Americans. Others suggest that their feeling is based on the stiff challenge involved in producing evidence in a murder trial where one of the two major figures is dead and where no eyewitnesses to the event exist.

All of the African-Americans interviewed for BET.com said they were convinced that Zimmerman had racially profiled the unarmed 17-year-old Martin. What’s more, they said that they know of no Black people who think Zimmerman is innocent. Still, many said they have doubts about the ability of a jury of five white women and one Hispanic woman to see the case as Black Americans might.

As one patron in Shawn’s Barber Shop put it, “White people look out for white people.”

Nonetheless, some suggested that the Zimmerman trial, by the nature of the events, presented the prosecution with a steep challenge in that Martin’s version of events could not be heard. Moreover, the standard of assessing guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” was an equally challenging one, given the parade of defense witnesses who supported Zimmerman’s version of events.

“The defense has attempted to portray Trayvon Martin as your stereotype Black kid who was up to no good,” said Hasan Kwame Jeffries, a professor of African-American history at Ohio State University, in an interview with BET.com.

“They have essentially tried to dehumanize him,” Jeffries said. “Trayvon’s mother did a masterful job of reminding the jurors that he was a person, a human being, a kid. But the defense worked hard to do otherwise.”

Still, many people suggested that the facts seem clear to them, and that Zimmerman overstepped his boundaries as a neighborhood watch volunteer, to a horrifying end.

“I think Zimmerman is going to walk,” said Ryan Tucker, a senior majoring in psychology at Southern University in Louisiana. “The defense has been able to manipulate the case in a way that will allow the jury to feel they should give him a pass.”

Tucker said he and many of his friends from college have been following the trial and feel strongly that Zimmerman should be convicted.

“At the end of the day, a 17-year-old kid was killed when he was doing nothing,” Tucker said. “And the guy who shot him had a history of calling the police about African-Americans walking around in his neighborhood and he had a gun. I don’t know how a jury can ignore that. But they just might.”

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(Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

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