The similarities between the 2 instances aren’t arduous to see. Each concerned defendants who assumed the Black male sufferer was concerned in prison exercise — housebreaking, to be particular. In each instances, the defendants who opened fireplace claimed to be performing in self-defense, and the lads accountable for the killings weren’t instantly arrested or charged.
When it got here to the trials, in each instances, the protection tried to capitalize on racial stereotypes to advance their positions. The protection within the Zimmerman case, for instance, known as on a white girl residing within the neighborhood to testify about having her home burglarized by a Black man. The girl stated she was scared to loss of life, hiding upstairs, whereas the Black man was downstairs ransacking her belongings. The burglar wasn’t Trayvon Martin; the one factor the 2 had in frequent was that they have been each Black males. By calling this witness, the protection seemingly sought to convey to the jury that it was cheap for Zimmerman to imagine Martin, a Black male he didn’t acknowledge, was as much as no good.
Within the Arbery case, Travis McMichael invoked the indignant Black man stereotype on the stand, testifying that when he first pulled up alongside Arbery in a pickup truck, he seen Arbery’s demeanor: “He seems very indignant.” When requested by his legal professional to explain what he meant, McMichael responded, “Mad. It’s clenched tooth. Closed forehead. He was mad.” He proceeded to testify that Arbery grabbed his shotgun, and he shot Arbery as a result of he was afraid that Arbery would use his gun towards him. Studies have shown that individuals are likely to see ambiguously hostile conduct by a Black man as harmful, violent and threatening, whereas seeing the identical conduct by a white man as merely taking part in round. On cross-examination, McMichael admitted that when he was requested by the police whether or not Arbery had grabbed his shotgun, he instructed them, “I wish to say that he did, however I truthfully can’t bear in mind.”
In closing arguments, Laura Hogue, an legal professional for Gregory McMichael, went a lot additional, suggesting that Arbery got here into the neighborhood the place he was shot and killed to have interaction in prison exercise, and invoking an unsightly stereotype. Hogue drew gasps from inside the courtroom and harsh criticism from authorized observers when she stated, “Turning Ahmaud Arbery right into a sufferer after the alternatives he made doesn’t replicate the truth of what introduced Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in khaki shorts, with no socks to cowl his lengthy soiled toenails.”
Regardless of these related protection ways, race operated in a different way within the two trials in different methods. Most notably, there was a larger nationwide concentrate on the function that implicit racial bias seemingly performed in Arbery’s killing each earlier than and throughout the trial — maybe in the end contributing to the responsible verdicts.
Decades of social science research signifies that when race just isn’t highlighted in a trial, jurors are typically extra punitive towards Black defendants and extra forgiving of white defendants even when all different details are equal. When race — and the potential of racial bias — is highlighted, nonetheless, whether or not by the attorneys, a witness or the decide, jurors are likely to deal with Black and white defendants extra equally. In a murder case involving a white defendant who claims self-defense towards a Black sufferer, race must be made salient, so the jury doesn’t subconsciously favor the white defendant over the Black sufferer.
Regardless that the failure to arrest Zimmerman unleashed an outcry about race and the prison justice system, there was little concentrate on race at his trial. The presiding decide made clear that she needed to run a colorblind trial, ruling early on that the prosecution may use the time period “profiling” however not “racial profiling” when describing Zimmerman’s acts. The prosecution acquiesced and avoided references to race during the trial. Certainly, throughout rebuttal closing argument, prosecutor John Man instructed the jury, “Race. This case just isn’t about race. It’s about proper and fallacious.” After the trial was over, Angela Corey, the lead prosecutor on the case, instructed the press, “This case has by no means been about race.”
In distinction, the racial dynamics within the Arbery case have been readily obvious each inside and outdoors the courtroom. The decide, Timothy Walmsley, appeared delicate to those dynamics. As an illustration, Walmsley expressed concern when the protection struck quite a few Black folks from the jury, leaving just one Black juror; in the end, although, the decide stated he felt he needed to settle for the ostensibly race-neutral causes for the strikes. The decide likewise denied a protection legal professional’s request that he prohibit Black pastors from attending the trial.
Previous to the announcement of the verdicts, some legal analysts criticized prosecutor Linda Dunikoski for not doing extra to focus on race. However Dunikoski needed to be cautious, given the present state of polarization round race in America. She was attempting the case within the South and didn’t know whether or not the white folks on her jury would possibly take offense if she emphasised the racial bias that seemingly brought about the defendants to see Arbery as a prison and a risk to their security. She wanted to make the jury perceive the racial dynamics of the case with out making any of the 11 white jurors really feel she was accusing them of being racist.
And she or he did that very skillfully.
In her opening assertion, Dunikoski instructed the jury, “We’re right here due to assumptions and driveway selections. All three of those defendants did every thing they did primarily based on assumptions.” Whereas she didn’t say the defendants relied on racial assumptions, given America’s racial reckoning over the previous 12 months and a half, it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to attach the dots. She additionally humanized Arbery and didn’t attempt to disguise the truth that he was Black, exhibiting jurors a photograph of him and telling them he was a “brother, uncle and an avid runner.” Dunikoski additionally used the defendants’ personal statements to the police to indicate that they noticed Arbery’s race as a risk, telling the jury that when one of many defendants known as 911 and was requested, “What’s your emergency?” he responded, “There’s a Black male working down the road.”
In her closing assertion, Dunikoski was extra specific, telling the jury that the defendants “made assumptions as a result of Ahmaud Arbery was a Black man, jogging down that road.” The chilly transcript of this second doesn’t totally seize its affect. Dunikoski paused after she stated the phrases “Black man,” so the jury initially heard: “They made assumptions as a result of Ahmaud Arbery was a Black man.” The implication was that the defendants jumped to conclusions about Arbery and thought he had simply dedicated against the law due to his race.
Dunikoski seemingly was aided by the truth that nationwide protests over the loss of life of George Floyd in 2020 put a highlight on implicit racial bias and the way that bias can result in deadly outcomes. The jurors have been reminded of this actuality because of the presence of members of Arbery’s household and the Black neighborhood within the courtroom day-after-day.
We don’t know precisely why the jurors within the Arbery case made the choice they did, but when there’s a lesson to be drawn from the decision, maybe it’s this: Generally to realize racial justice, we have to remind people who race issues.