WASHINGTON — The headlines were immediate: All-women jury chosen for George Zimmerman's trial.
What is the likelihood that you, a man, would face a jury of all women? What are the chances that one-third of the jurors judging you on a charge of second-degree murder identify their hobby as saving animals?
Finally, what's your bet that the victim in the case, an unarmed black teenager, will receive justice from a panel that is five-sixths white?
We depend on reassuring answers to such questions, but our headlines belie our skepticism. Do we really trust our peers?
To briefly recount, Zimmerman, 29, is charged with the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman, a volunteer watchman, saw Martin walking through his neighborhood, thought he looked suspicious, and the rest is familiar to anyone reading this.
What makes the jury interesting is that it forces to the fore all the implications we try to avoid: Do gender, race, ethnicity matter when it comes to judging one another? We like to think not, yet, admit it, the reason the all-women jury made headlines is because it raises those very questions. Indeed, those questions are at the heart of the prosecution's case.
Zimmerman, who avers that he acted in self-defense, is accused of profiling Martin and acting accordingly. Because Martin was black and wearing a hooded shirt (it was raining), Zimmerman presumably took him to be dangerous — inherently so, not because of anything overtly threatening.
Would a white teen similarly attired have been adjudged suspicious and potentially dangerous by Zimmerman? The prosecutors think not. Yet we also know that Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, worked as a volunteer with black youth. He wasn't by any apparent standard a racist. But he decided that someone who looked like Martin didn't belong in a neighborhood where several break-ins recently had occurred. Was his deduction logical or racist — or both?
Consciously or not, we all make such judgments every day. We cross the street to avoid someone whose dress, behavior or some other signal makes us feel less secure. It's human nature deeply rooted in thousands of years of survival.