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Affirmative Action for George Zimmerman Jury: Just One Piece of the Justice Puzzle

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The trial of George Zimmerman in the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was, for many, a three-week period of unsustainable levels of anxiety that reached new heights during a 16-hour deliberation by the jury.

The "not guilty" verdict inspired overwhelming shock, but not because an acquittal -- on some deep, subconscious level -- wasn't expected from the start.

I believe we all knew that Zimmerman's story, uncontested by another, (given that Trayvon died that fateful night) left many holes in the prosecution's case, giving way to reasonable doubt.

Unfortunately, the burden of closing these holes was put on the advocates of the deceased, and while the prosecution could have presented a number of hypothetical situations, the unavoidable truth of the matter is that they weren't witness to the scene of the crime. So, how could they really know?

The shock at the verdict was so sharp and profound because the hope was so great for justice to be served late Saturday night. It was a desperate hunger of a people so starved for accountability in the theft of this young man's life -- my own brother's age -- who died so senselessly that night.

But once this shock subsided and resolve took its place, something so crucial to this trial that was downplayed by some or discarded altogether, revealed that many of us knew all along what would be the result. It was something that was solidified before the trial even began; that is, the selection of the jury.

When it was reported that the six-person panel would be comprised of five white women and one Hispanic woman, many of us knew what that meant, but weren't allowed to say it. We just had to grin and bear the composite of this jury so obviously stacked against Trayvon, and hold onto nothing more than hope that they would come to a just decision.

And while affirmative action in the college admissions process is challenged in the Supreme Court, after this verdict, it's become clear that what we need is not a repeal, but rather an expansion of affirmative action to our judicial process.

There should be a mandatory presence of multiple races to give a truly fair and balanced hearing, as we cannot deny that individuals have experiences unique to their race that are not easily empathized with across racial lines.

It is not always easy, for example, for a white individual to put themselves in the shoes of a black person, as evidenced by the all-too-common insistence that racism has come to an end. However those in the black community know better.

Can we then, expect a 5-out-of-6 white jury to understand the experience of a young black man born too tall or too dark or too proud, out too late, walking too slow, looking around at his surroundings a little too much? Particularly in a case like this where preconceived notions of race are such integral pieces of the story, members of each relevant race should be present in the jury.

Is it really so far-fetched to argue that across racial boundaries, we don't always know or understand one another's struggles? Is it really so wrong to say that those white women on the jury could not imagine their own children in Trayvon's position, because their children would never have been profiled like he was?

Our judicial system promises a jury of our peers, but this was not a jury of Trayvon's peers. The complete absence of black bodies on that jury is disturbing because it means there was likely no one on that panel who understood what it's like to avoid looking menacing, like you're on drugs, like you're up to no good, when you are none of those things.

The conclusion that Trayvon was profiled by Zimmerman is not the main reason for conviction, but it's critical to understanding the narrative of that night as having been initiated by Zimmerman, fueling his insistence on following Trayvon, and possibly confronting him. If you cannot see what was wrong with Zimmerman making that initial call to the police, lumping Trayvon in with a group of "punks" and criminals who "always get away," you cannot see why Zimmerman would have any responsibility in provoking a confrontation and you cannot see Trayvon as the victim.

It's almost funny because the outcry should that jury have turned up five black jurors and one Hispanic, the assumption would certainly be made that the selection was imbalanced and a "guilty" verdict, inevitable. But we were not allowed to suggest the opposite of an all non-black jury, or at the very least, strongly discouraged from doing so, for fear of being labeled a "race-hustler," or an exploiter of race relations.

The fact is, racism is not so cut and dry as it once was, but it is surely alive and well. It has become more subtle in its presence, but just as poisonous as ever. And yet, we judge whether or not something or someone is racist by the standards of yesteryear when those criteria simply do not apply today.

I will be forever unimpressed by the fact that Zimmerman tutored young black children, took a black girl to prom, had black friends or acquaintances or whatever, because I can separate the attitudes that Zimmerman has for black children he knows, and even black women he doesn't, while also considering that he has many racist, preconceived ideas about black men who are strangers to him, that scare him, and make him call the police.

The black community can distinguish the difference, as we are witness to it regularly. And the subtlety of racism now makes it so that non-blacks, if they so choose, can easily dismiss it. They reason that Zimmerman wasn't completely white himself, he wasn't wearing a white sheet that night, and he didn't refer to Trayvon as an explicit racial epithet. No, he just thought, for whatever reason, that Trayvon was a criminal.

I fear that this was missed by the jury, but given the limitations of those jurors' experiences, it doesn't take a race hustler to see why.