Victim or Thug? Examining the Relevance of Stories in Cases Involving Shootings of Unarmed Black Males
13 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2015 Last revised: 12 May 2016
Date Written: July 20, 2015
In recent years, the shootings of unarmed African American men and boys by individuals with real or purported police authority have garnered significant public attention. Moreover, studies about these incidents have revealed stark contrasts in perspectives between African Americans and White Americans concerning jury decisions not to charge or not to convict the shooters, and the role that race may have played in these cases. Recent polls reveal that African Americans express significantly greater dissatisfaction with these jury decisions and often share the belief that race has played a role. While it is not possible to know the extent to which race actually impacted recent jury decisions, this article explains how matters of race can find their way into jurors’ assessments of cases involving shootings of unarmed African American males. This essay focuses on what we now know about the role of stories in jury decision-making, and the opportunities that stories afford for jurors’ pre-existing attitudes and beliefs, including their biases and prejudices, to factor into their evaluations of cases. Ultimately, this essay argues that the quality of justice and public perceptions would be improved if courts reconsider how they address bias and prejudice in the courtroom. It encourages courts to acknowledge the role that jurors’ perspectives play in decision-making, and employ practices that raise jurors’ awareness of their own biases and encourage the selection of jurors who bring diverse perspectives.
Keywords: Ferguson, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, narrative, story-telling
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