Monday, July 15, 2013

Jury Deliberations and Gender

The verdict is in: George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed a teenage boy in Florida, has been acquitted by his peers. Reaction to the verdict was mixed, with many experts betting on a not guilty outcome and the rest pulling for a guilty one. In the end the six  woman who made up the jury let Zimmerman go. While reaction to the verdict based on the jury's gender has been stifled, it appears I may have been the only one surprised. 

The six women who decided Zimmerman's fate were of diverse backgrounds. Five were mothers, two owned firearms, some had formed pre-trial opinions about the crime and another one wanted gun laws overhauled. One was married to an attorney, another had a child who worked as one. Five were white and one was Hispanic. Initial analysis would have some believing these women went into this trial with biases. And strong emotions. They have children, mostly grown, but certainly images of their future or existing grandchildren flickered through their minds. Was it possible for them to base their final verdict on facts alone? I found it difficult to believe, as I'm sure many others had, but for whatever reason - their jobs, reputations - these opinions were not shared. 

Well, I was wrong. In the end, these brave women were able to look at the evidence objectively and rule in favor of Zimmerman. They defied the stereotypes, challenged the uncertainties, and decided there wasn't enough substantial evidence to convict him. Whether or not I agree with them is another story, but the fact that these six women were able to deliver a ruling with their biases in tact speaks volumes about their ability to lead. They have set the same precedents as Marissa Mayers of Yahoo! and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook. If you think this is a bit of a stretch, keep in mind that Florida eliminated its state laws barring women from serving in juries in 1967. That's what, nearly four decades ago?  If that's not progress, I'm not sure what is. 

On another note, Trayvon Martin's fate was a tragic one. It impacted me as much as the rest of the nation, and I extend my condolences to his family. Any positive reference to the verdict was not a sign of support. I was merely relating to critical gender progress for women. 

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