Looking Beyond a Reasonable Doubt -- What if George Zimmerman were Black?

| by Sarah Siskind
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In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, waves of racism accusations have washed over the defendant, the jury, and the judicial system as a whole, threatening an imminent race storm. Statistics seem to just float by, randomly mentioning the incarceration rate of black men, racial income gaps, and education gaps.

The racial paradigm is confusing. Zimmerman is Hispanic, a group that has also been discriminated against. However, some have asked what this case would have looked like if Zimmerman were black instead. Earlier this year, a 71-year-old black man was charged with murdering someone twice his size and half his age who was choking him. Trevor Dooley argued, like Zimmerman, that he was abiding by the “Stand Your Ground” laws in Florida. Unlike Zimmerman, however, Dooley was sentenced to eight years.

Many have come to the conclusion that if Zimmerman were black, he would have been convicted like Dooley. However, it is important to remember that if Dooley was unjustly incarcerated, that does not render Zimmerman’s acquittal necessarily unfair.  

Rather, the high incarceration rate of blacks and the media’s portrayal of the Zimmerman case may betray a woeful understanding of "reasonable doubt." The media should not presume Zimmerman guilty before he was even tried, just as the jury should not presume Dooley guilty before convicted.

All juries are instructed that if they vote guilty it must be beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet “reasonable doubt,” though ubiquitous in our jurisprudence, is nowhere defined.

There are two categories of reasonable doubt: external and internal. Juries must be skeptical of the prosecution, on whom the burden of proof lies. At the same time, juries must also be skeptical of themselves, on whom the burden of judgment lies.

The American judicial system is openly adversarial. What is not so open, however, is the impartiality of the jury. In cases where race is a contingent factor, such as those of Zimmerman and Dooley, members of the jury must be as introspective as they are required to observant. Sometimes that "shadow of a doubt" comes from within.

Sources: CNN, WTSP,