Ted Wafer’s trial, and why race matters in jury selection

 

 

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.

Michael Dunn’s mistrial and the post-racial myth

http://blogs.detroitnews.com/politics/2014/02/19/dunn-mistrial/

FEB 19, 2014, 9:10 AM 

Dawud Walid: Michael Dunn’s mistrial and the post-racial myth

Another high-profile trial in Florida continues to fuel a national discussion regarding the impact of race in America.

On Saturday, Michael Dunn, a middle-age white male, was convicted on attempted murder charges for shooting into a car of black youth, who were playing loud music.

Oddly, a murder charge against him for the same incident was ruled a mistrial for his fatally shooting Jordan Davis, who was a black teenager. Davis and his friends were unarmed.

Dunn, who claimed he was threatened in the incident, said to fiancé according to jailhouse phone recording audio that “I was the one who was victimized.”

Dunn is articulating a position that many black Americans know well. That position is that young lack people, who don’t meet a particular standard of appearance and behavior, are thought to be inherently dangerous. In effect, Dunn’s argument resides in the position that he had the right to shot an unarmed teen because his mere presence was enough to be pose a risk to Dunn’s safety.

The shooting of Davis wasn’t about loud music. It was about deeply-ingrained racism. Knowing that white kids play loud music, which I’m sure Dunn saw on a regular basis, is but another sign of this.

We’ve seen this script over and over again in post-Reconstruction America. From the unarmed black teen Emmett Till, who was brutally murdered in 1955 in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman, to another unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin, who was more recently shot to death in Florida, black folks have repeatedly seen justice delayed or denied for young blacks killed by whites for not knowing their place.

This is not simply a Southern phenomenon. The same has historically happened up North, too, including in Michigan. As Muslim human rights leader Malcolm X, whose Christian pastor father was murdered in Lansing once said, “Long as you south of the Canadian border, you’re South.” Renisha McBride, another unarmed black teen who was shot and killed through a locked door by a white man in Dearborn Heights, is but a recent example.

There continues to be something awry when it comes to cases such as this, where unarmed blacks are the victims of violence by white perpetrators. When it comes to Stand Your Ground-type defenses, whites are 250 times more likely to be found justified for shooting blacks than the other way around. I can point to other stats as well. Whites are also acquitted at higher rates or get lesser sentences for shooting blacks than when the other finger is on the trigger.

Blacks are primarily the victims of gun violence at the hands of other blacks. Whites are primarily murdered by whites too, though.

That’s not the point. The point is that there’s an institutionalized issue of racism in our country which adds up such that black lives are not seen as valuable in comparison to whites. This goes from how shooters such as Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman dehumanize their black victims to the actual mistrial and acquittals.

We can’t legislate or convict our way out of racism in America. What we can do is do a better job at having frank discussions in the wake of this verdict to the upcoming trial of Ted Wafer in the Renisha McBride case, and beyond. Perhaps this will bring us toward a more humane view of each other, which may avert some of these needless shootings in the future and/or produce more aware jury pools, which hear such cases.

Understanding the Pain of the Zimmerman Trial

http://muslimmatters.org/2013/08/02/understanding-the-pain-of-the-zimmerman-trial/

By Dawud Walid

 

The recent acquittal in the George Zimmerman case reignited a national discussion about race relations in America.  There were many on one end of the spectrum, who stated the Zimmerman case typifies the lack of racial equity and justice in America for Blackamericans, from the initial profiling of Trayvon Martin, the trying of his character during the legal procedure to the not-guilty verdict for Zimmerman. Others countered that Zimmerman was within his legal right to defend himself and that the case has nothing to do with race.  Some even went to the extreme of saying Martin was a thug who deserved death.  American Muslims also weighed in on this issue within a similar range of opinions, which I heard in conversations to reading on Twitter and blogs.

How American Muslims perceive the Zimmerman trial differs.  These differing perspectives may be based on varying factors including family lineage, knowledge and interpretation of American history and socio-economic background.  Even when it comes to our reading of the Qur’an and Sunnah, these are interpreted or even colored based upon the prior texts of our experiences.  Thus, my outlook on the Zimmerman verdict is informed not just by Islamic texts but also my experiences as a Black man in America.

The Qur’an commands [5:8], “Be just; it is closest to being regardful (taqwa).”  It’s reported in a hadeeth hasan that Prophet Muḥammad  also stated, “Justice in an hour is better than a year of ritual worship.”  The Islamic jurisprudence definition of justice is to ensure that matters are in their proper places; thus, injustice or oppression is when matters are taken out of their proper places. 

Within this context, I view this case and the American legal system in general as a dichotomy between the appearance of procedural justice, which is also expressed in the rhetoric of national values, with America’s ugly history of racism, which expresses itself in social structures and institutions.  Hence, I simply do not see Zimmerman’s acquittal as being just, meaning that Martin’s homicide based upon citizen racial profiling and his killer being found not-guilty is outside of the bounds of things being in their proper place.

A counter-argument that has been put forth that Blacks primarily kill Blacks as way to dismiss concerns of racism in this case is actually bizarre to me as well.  Yes, Blacks are the primary killers of others asWhites are the primary murders of each other in America.  The grievance, again, that Martin’s murder brings up is an American double standard of applying justice, which is a form of oppression. 

For instance, White people, who kill Blacks in “Stand Your Ground” states are 354% more likely to be cleared of murder than if a White is killed.  To highlight this, a Black woman named Marissa Alexander is currently serving 20 years in a Florida prison for standing her ground while firing a warning shot to scare off her abusive husband.  Of course, this is the American norm to me of our system though may seem as abnormal to others. 

I ask brothers and sisters in Islam to empathize with the concerns of Blackamericans in terms of the systematic reality of anti-Black racism. Islam’s mandate is not for us to be only concerned about justice when Muslims are involved; justice does not mean “just us.”  Moreover, we cannot expect to overcome anti-Muslim bigoty and anti-Arab/anti-Asian racism in America outside of the framework of dealing with anti-Black racism. 

For those of you who are not Blackamerican that wish to understand more of the plight and concerns of Blackamericans in regards to racism, try listening and placing yourself in shoes that you have not walked in.  This may help you connect with the profound pain that millions of your fellow Americans, who are Black continue to feel around this case and other ridiculous travesties of institutional violence.

Another useful contemporary tool of connecting is to watch the riveting new film “Fruitvale Station” about the last days of Oscar Grant, who was murdered a few years ago by BART Police in California.

I also suggest listening to “Trayvon Martin A Sign of the End of Time” khutbah by imām Zaid Shakir, “The Dangers of Hubris and the Murder of Trayvon Martin” khutbah by imām Suhaib Webb and a khutbah that I gave after the Zimmerman verdict titled “Empathizing With Others.”

Zimmerman verdict demands candid talk on race

http://blogs.detroitnews.com/politics/2013/07/17/zimmerman-verdict-demands-candid-talk-on-race/

JUL 17, 2013, 9:30 AM

BY 

The George Zimmerman acquittal has angered many as yet another sign of racial injustice in America.  Others, however, were elated by the verdict arguing that he should have never been indicted and that race should have not been a factor.

I lean more towards the former and believe there’s opportunity to bring change for the better due to Trayvon Martin’s homicide.

One of these opportunities is that we should all commit ourselves to having candid discussions about race in America.  Texas Governor Rick Perry asserted after the verdict that we have a “colorblind” justice system.  This is false as surely other daily social realities in America are not colorblind. Our biases go with us – including into courtrooms.

There is a difference between a semblance of procedural justice, as in the eventual prosecution and trial of Zimmerman, with racial and social justice.  Hence, Zimmerman apparently saw Martin as a threat not simply because he was a stranger but because he was a young black teenager in a hoodie.   The reality is that young black men are perceived as more threatening in America. An AP poll last year found that 51 percent of Americans express explicit anti-black sentiments.

Though personal accountability is important to the current plight of minorities, there is much to be said about structural inequalities in America that have roots back to the founding of our republic.

According to a Texas A&M study, why are whites 354 percent more likely to be acquitted when shooting blacks using the “Stand Your Ground” defense than if whites are shot?

Why are our prisons filled with black and Latino males primarily from nonviolent drug offenses, yet whites use and sell drugs at the same rates as their demographics in society?

Why do Native Americans who reside on reservations have higher rates of dropping out of high school and alcoholism than the national average?

Why does the Heritage Foundation say that “Hispanic immigrants, even after several generations, have lower IQ’s” than whites within the context of immigration reform discussion?

It’s evident that we are not a post-racial society. Instead of acting as if we are a colorblind society, we need to discuss how race matters.

Whites need to lead these discussions with fellow whites to unpack how white privilege is a reality in America.  White privilege does not mean that whites do not work hard or are all born with silver spoons in their mouths.  White privilege is the other side of racism that affords freedom of societal movement for whites that minorities do not fully enjoy.  Black Americans cannot lead in this matter, for it would invoke defensiveness or charges of playing the race card.

Arabs, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans and blacks also need to have frank discussions on how race affects self-awareness and perceptions of others.  There is ethnic animus and insensitive among people of color against each other.  Zimmerman after all has lighter skin but is not white according to the traditional American racial construct of whiteness.

If we renew our commitment to discuss our misperceptions about others, it may lead us to be more comfortable about discussing race in mixed forums and environments.  I recognized that many Americans simply aren’t there yet.

I plan to march this Saturday at noon outside of the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Fort Street to exert pressure of the Department of Justice to thoroughly review if Martin’s civil rights were violated by Zimmerman.  I also plan to continue to push for the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) to become the law of the land.  However, my larger goal is to be a part of a broader regional and national conversation of how race still matters.  Ignoring the problem of racism and its social consequences will not magically solve anything.  Recognizing and candidly discussing its reality is the only way that we can ever hope to rid our country of the ugly disease of racism.