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The Washington Post’s She The People: The George Zimmerman case: Women will now decide

Black man, you are on your own.”

– Steven Bantu Biko, Black South African Anti-Apartheid Activist 10/12/2012

Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, holding a picture of Trayvon. (

I am a black woman and I am a mother of two, a son and a daughter.

Ask mothers of black boys their opinion of the killing of Trayvon Benjamin Martin and we will tell you what we believe to be a self-evident truth − that our black boys are all alone in a world of white men, many of whom see them as George Zimmerman described Trayvon, as  “[expletive] punks. These [expletive]. They always get away.”

If they survive their childhoods, our young black boys grow up and become black men, similarly feared, loathed, challenged, and always at risk of facing a slew of possible injustices− unequal access to an excellent education; unemployment or underemployment; imprisonment; depression; suicide; and even murder. For too many of our sons, the threat of being shot in the heart as Trayvon Martin was is more likely than being elected president of the United States.

As black mothers, collectively, we all wish for justice for Trayvon, whose only crime was being born black, walking home after purchasing a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea, and defending himself  after being followed by George Zimmerman.  To me, justice for Trayvon would mean justice for all black boys.

There has been much testimony of witnesses for the prosecution and the defense – the parents and friends of Trayvon Martin, the parents and friends of George Zimmerman, a 911 dispatcher, a former neighborhood watch coordinator, police officers, an audio analysis expert, a gym owner and MMA fighting expert, a forensic pathologist and law enforcement trainer, and the 7-Eleven clerk who sold Trayvon Skittles and iced tea the evening George Zimmerman shot and killed him.

In the end, George Zimmerman’s fate will be decided solely by the women who have been intimately involved with this trial.

The Judge

Orlando Sentinel, Gary W. Green, Pool  July 10, 2013

Judge Debra Steinberg Nelson (Orlando Sentinel, Gary W. Green, Pool
July 10, 2013)

Judge Debra Steinberg Nelson is the “trier-of-fact,” interpreting the law, assessing the evidence presented, and controlling the proceedings in her courtroom in the pursuit of justice.

The Jury

The all-woman jury is now responsible for deciding whether George Zimmerman is guilty or not of second-degree murder or manslaughter. Five of the six jurors are non-Hispanic white; one is Hispanic.  Most of them are married and most have children (one juror has eight children).  The prosecution tried to strike two of them from the jury.

 Key Female Witness Testimony

Elouise Dilligard

AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank, Pool

Elouise Dilligard (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank, Pool)

Elouise Dilligard is an African-American woman. A defense witness, she testified from her sickbed at home via the use of Apple’s “Facetime.” A neighbor of Zimmerman at the Retreat at Twin Lakes, she arrived at the scene while the police were still present.  She testified that the screams in the background of the-now infamous 911 call to be that of George Zimmerman.

Sybrina Fulton and Gladys Zimmerman


Sybrina Fulton(AP photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)

Sybrina Fulton is Trayvon Martin’s mother.  After declaring to the jury that her son, Trayvon,  “is in heaven,” she listened to the same 911 recording and testified, “I heard my son screaming.” Moments later on the call, there was a gunshot and the crying stopped. When defense Mark O’Mara asked Fulton during cross-examination whether she hoped Trayvon hadn’t done anything that led to his death, she said: “I would hope for this to never have happened and he would still be here.”

Gary W. Green / Pool

Gladys Zimmerman, George Zimmerman’s mother (Gary W. Green / Pool)

Gladys Zimmerman is George Zimmerman’s mother. Mrs. Zimmerman testified that she recognized the screaming voice on the same 911 tape as her son’s. When asked how she could be sure, she said: “Because it’s my son.”



Rachel Jeantel

Jacob Langston / The Associated Press

Rachel Jeantel (Jacob Langston / The Associated Press)

Rachel Jeantel is a 19-year-old, African-American woman.  She met Trayvon Martin in the second grade and was the last person to speak with him before George Zimmerman shot and killed him.  In her testimony, Jeantel said that Martin told her “a man was watching him.” She said that she told him to run, but he told her he was close to his father’s fiancé’s house.  When she called Martin back, she said that Martin told her, “The [n-word]” is behind me.  Jeantel testified that Martin told her that he would run home and then the phone went dead.

My Washington Post colleague Vanessa Williams pointed out that “Jeantel’s blunt, urban teenager demeanor … irritated some in the courtroom, including attorneys on both sides who at times acted as if she were speaking in tongues…” , I found  defense attorney Don West’s cross examination of Jeantel to smack of condescension and elitism.

Credit: AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Gary W. Green

Crime Scene Technician Diana Smith holding the gun that was used by George Zimmerman to shoot Trayvon Martin (Credit: AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Gary W. Green)

Diana Smith

Diana Smith is a crime scene technician for the Sanford Police Department and a prosecution witness. Through her testimony, jurors were shown a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona Iced Tea, the items Martin bought at a 7-Eleven on the night he was killed. It has been reported that “[t]he six female jurors paid close attention as Smith held up the firearm that belonged to Zimmerman – the same one used to fatally shoot the 17-year-old.”

In “George Zimmerman’s jury of peers,” Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker asked, “Do gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and so on matter when it comes to judging one another?”

My answer to this question is yes.

It’s the reason that African Americans and women fought for the legal right to be included on criminal juries. Jury duty is a right and requirement and privilege of citizenship.   Justice cannot be served unless juries and the entire criminal justice system reflects a cross-section of the community.

Collectively, the women who will decide George Zimmerman’s fate are exactly that. Some are white; some are African American; some are Hispanic; many of them are married; some are not.  Some of them are mothers; at least one has a graduate degree while another is a 19-year-old high school student.

The one thing that they all have in common in their “femaleness” is knowing and understanding that it is possible, and indeed plausible, to be profiled based upon immutable characteristics like race, gender,  ethnicity, sexual orientation, or even age.

The American poet Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz once said, “Every white man in this country has been raised with a false sense of power.” I don’t agree with the broad strokes of her sentiment, but it is through the lens of history that tells us that there are some white men who fit the bill that the all female jury will decide, based upon the facts, whether  Zimmerman acted in self-defense when he shot and killed Trayvon Martin.

The mothers of black boys are watching and praying that justice is served. Our sons have the same potential for greatness as others yet their inability to defend themselves against assumptions that lead to profiling keep killing them.

5928_1138161727302_1025144561_30395865_6391907_nMichelle D. Bernard, the president & CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy is the author of Moving America Toward Justice, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law 1963-2013.  Follow her on Twitter@michellebernard.



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