Commentary: B37 Spells Bingo for George Zimmerman

Defense attorneys knew a jury of five white women and one Hispanic woman would find it difficult to identify with the humanity of a Black teenage boy.  

Posted: 07/16/2013 11:58 AM EDT
Keith Boykin, Jury B37, Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman

When I was a kid in Florida, I remember the old folks used to play Bingo. As far as I could tell, it was purely a game of luck. If they called your number, you simply moved your chip onto the appropriate space on the board.

But what if a player controlled the boards that were distributed or the numbers that were called. That would obviously raise a ruckus, of course, unless it was done in a way that made it seem fair.

That's the sinking feeling I got Monday night when I watched the televised CNN interview with Juror B37, the first juror from the George Zimmerman trial to go public. Watching the inconsistencies in her logic made me remember those Bingo games and how seemingly neutral systems could be constructed in a way to guarantee a particular outcome.

One day when I was young, I discovered my grandmother had rigged a church Bingo game so that her best friend's granddaughter could win a bicycle. Young and naive, I challenged her. "Oh, the white folks do it all the time," she blithely responded. I didn't believe her back then. Then I saw Juror B37.

By her own words Monday night, Juror B37 made the case to convict Zimmerman of manslaughter. After listening to all the evidence, half of the jury initially felt Zimmerman was guilty but the other jurors persuaded them to change their minds. Although B37 was one of the initial not guilty votes herself, her own statements to Anderson Cooper actually make the case for manslaughter.

"George Zimmerman is guilty of not using good judgment," she told Cooper. He "shouldn't have gotten out of the car," she said. "I think he just didn't know when to stop," she added. The situation "got out of hand," she admitted.

Juror B37 couldn't say for sure whether Trayvon Martin reached for the gun, as Zimmerman's defense argued, but she knew Zimmerman didn't stop when he should have. And she acknowledged "there were some fabrications" in Zimmerman's story. Given all that, how could she reason it was self-defense?

Juror B37 simply identified more with the defendant than with the victim. Throughout the CNN interview, she consistently referred to Zimmerman as "George," demonstrating her empathy with the accused. "I have no doubt George feared for his life in the situation he was in at the time," she told Cooper.

George Zimmerman was "a man whose heart was in the right place," she said. He was simply "overeager to help people." Married to an attorney and now backtracking on plans to write a book about the trial, B37 even cited Florida's Stand Your Ground law for Zimmerman's benefit. "He had a right to defend himself," she said. And although she hesitated when asked if she would feel comfortable with Zimmerman on a neighborhood watch in her own community, she wasn't worried about him getting his gun back. "I think he would be more responsible than anybody else on the planet right now," she said.

Unfortunately, Juror B37 could not identify with Trayvon Martin because of her racial naïveté and lack of cultural awareness. She told Cooper that "George" would have reacted in the exact same way if Trayvon had not been Black. He just "profiled anybody who came into the neighborhood acting strange," she claimed. Race played no part in her decision, she said.

And then, the juror who told the court she never reads the newspaper and gets all her information from The Today Show, revealed her lack of cultural awareness in her description of Rachel Jeantel's testimony. She told Cooper that Jeantel was not very credible, was not a good witness and "used phrases I had never heard before." And although she didn't find Jeantel credible, the one statement Jeantel made she did believe was that Trayvon described Zimmerman as a "creepy ass cracker."

Juror B37's disturbing interview helps explain why Zimmerman's defense wanted her on the jury in the first place and why they chose to close their case by calling Olivia Bertalan, a married white woman who was not a witness to the crime but had been a victim of a burglary in the area six months before Trayvon was killed. "I saw two young African-American guys," Bertalan told the jury.

And that's what this case was about all along — white women's fear of young Black men. Never mind that the man who broke into Bertalan's house was 215 pounds and Trayvon was 158 pounds. Never mind that Trayvon had never broken into her house, or any other house for that matter. Never mind that Trayvon was an unarmed teenager on his way home from the 7-Eleven.

In a society where Black males are viewed as predators, defense attorneys knew all along that a jury of five white women and one Hispanic woman would find it difficult to identify with the humanity of a Black teenage boy. They knew that all-white juries are 16 percent more likely to convict Black defendants than white ones and they knew they planned to put Trayvon Martin on trial, making the dead teen, not George Zimmerman, the defendant.

That's when Juror B37 finally made sense. And that's when I saw my grandmother's Bingo subterfuge in a whole new light. B37 was the missing spot on the board. She was part of the fix, along with the race-neutral jury selection process, the race-blind approach to the law, and the racial amnesia in the criminal justice system itself.

Although my grandmother was far more transparent in her little deception, she made her point. The white folks do it all the time. But they make it look like its fair.

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for BET.com each week.

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

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