JUL 24, 2014, 1:00 PM
Ted Wafer’s trial, and why race matters in jury selection
Jury selection concluded yesterday for the upcoming trial of Ted Wafer, who fatally shot unarmed teenager Renisha McBride last year in Dearborn Heights.
We should not prognosticate on how the trial will end, but we do know that ethnic make-ups of juries in general can and does influence verdicts in our courtrooms. Regarding jury make-up, let’s compare this particular case to another high profile case pertaining to a non-black shooter with a black fatality.
The case of Wafer, who is white and fatally shot McBride, who was black and wearing a hoodie, can, on its face, compared to the case of George Zimmerman, who also killed an unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin, who was also wearing a hoodie.
The jury of the Zimmerman trial comprised zero black jurors. In fact juror B37 stated after the trial that Zimmerman, who followed Martin before confronting and killing him, had the right to use lethal force because he had a reasonable reason to fear Martin.
Jurors, of course, do not make process information on strictly rational basis. Jurors are humans who bring their biases into jury boxes.
When there’s a general fear of black youth who dress a particular way, it stands to reason that non-black jurors would identity more with the self-defense argument, even when the shooter doesn’t flee but actually confronts their eventual target. There is also a common tendency of defense attorneys to disqualify potential black jurors when the perpetrators are white, out of concern that they will identify more with the prosecution’s arguments.
The jury for the Wafer trial, unlike Zimmerman’s, will have four black jurors, two males and two females. This is not to say that this jury will not be hung based upon disagreements, nor does it mean that all of the four black jurors are free from internalized oppression.
What it does mean, however, is that Wafer will be tried by a jury of his peers as well as the peers of the deceased, reflecting the diversity of the community, unlike Zimmerman’s jury, which had no one who looked like or apparently could identify with Martin.
We’ll see how the Wafer trial unfolds. One thing I can say for sure though: I feel better that a just verdict will be given in this case, given the diversity of the jury, more than I would if the jury was exclusively white.