Denying the Significance of Race

Denying the Significance of Race: Colorblindness and the Zimmerman Trial in Trayvon Martin, Race, and American Justice 31 (Kenneth J. Fasching-Varner, et al. eds., 2014)

GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2017-62

GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2017-62

11 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2017

See all articles by Cynthia Lee

Cynthia Lee

George Washington University Law School

Date Written: 2014

Abstract

In this book chapter, published in Trayvon Martin, Race, and American Justice: Writing Wrong (Sense Publishers 2014), Cynthia Lee analyzes the George Zimmerman trial from a critical race perspective. She analyzes why all the major legal decision makers associated with the Trayvon Martin case (judge, prosecution and defense team) were so eager to deny the significance of race. She posits that they either sincerely believed the case had nothing to do with race or thought it improper or strategically disadvantageous to acknowledge that race was relevant. The judge wanted to run a colorblind trial. The defense did not want the jury to focus on the possibility that Zimmerman may have thought Martin looked suspicious because he was a young Black male. The prosecution did not want the jury to think they were “playing the race card.”

Lee notes that while the judge may have sincerely believed that running a colorblind trial was in the interest of justice, both the defense and the prosecution, while ostensibly treating the case as if race didn’t matter, attempted to use race covertly to their advantage. For example, the defense called a white woman who lived in Zimmerman's neighborhood to testify about being burglarized by a Black man, hoping that her testimony, combined with racial stereotypes about Blacks as criminals, might lead the jury to conclude that it was reasonable for Zimmerman to have thought Martin, a Black male, looked suspicious. They also argued that Zimmerman was unfairly selected for prosecution because of his race. Prosecutors used six or seven of their ten peremptory challenges to strike white females from ·the jury, prompting the defense to raise a Batson objection. The judge ruled in favor of the defense, disallowing two of the prosecution’s peremptory challenges. During rebuttal closing argument, the prosecution made a point of telling the jury, “This case is not about race.” Lee concludes that rather than pretending race was irrelevant, the prosecution should made race salient to reduce the risk of racial stereotypes about blacks influencing the jury.

Keywords: Race, Colorblind, Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, racial stereotypes, critical race theory

Suggested Citation

Lee, Cynthia, Denying the Significance of Race (2014). Denying the Significance of Race: Colorblindness and the Zimmerman Trial in Trayvon Martin, Race, and American Justice 31 (Kenneth J. Fasching-Varner, et al. eds., 2014), GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2017-62, GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2017-62, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3026382 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3026382

Cynthia Lee (Contact Author)

George Washington University Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States
(202) 994-4768 (Phone)

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