The trial of Derek Chauvin, who is facing multiple charges in the murder of George Floyd last May, has maintained national attention following the global protests and calls for justice. Now, with jury selection completed in the trial, there is some discussion about its racial makeup.
According to reports, there are 15 jurors who have been selected in the trial. Fourteen are expected to be seated to hear the case. An extra alternate was selected just in case a juror dropped out before opening statements begin on March 29, but will be dismissed if there aren’t any dropouts.
Most of the jurors that have been selected are white, according to court documents with nine white people, four Black people, two multi-racial people seated on the case. In the Constitution, people on trial are given the right to have a jury composed of their peers, but how that is practiced given the disproportionate impact of the US criminal justice system on Black people, and other bias at play is difficult. Based on race, trends of bias towards situations like that of what took place in the death of George Floyd can also be a factor influenced by a jury’s racial composition, according to a study conducted by Wake Forest University School of Law.
The racial makeup of juries has an effect on conviction rates, the study found.
“We’ve seen that in this country that Black jurors are struck at a higher rate than other jurors, and that is a really big problem,” Sonali Chakravarti, a researcher at Wesleyan University, told NPR. “The way jurors feel has to do with what stories they believe are possible and likely. And so race and how we understand race relations working can have a big impact on whether they see one story as plausible or not,” Chakravarti added.
According to a report by the Independent, lawyers in the Derek Chauvin trial asked potential jurors about their thoughts and level of involvement with the Black Lives Matter movement. Questions about police and institutionalized bias were also asked, leaving the jury make-up who are expected to be seated to hear the case.
One juror, Juror 76, previously lived in the neighborhood where George Floyd was killed. According to the Independent, he wanted to serve on the jury in the trial to “be in the room” when decisions are made. “Because me, as a Black man, you see a lot of Black people get killed and no one’s held accountable for it, and you wonder why or what was the decision,” Juror 76 said. “So, with this, maybe I’ll be in the room to know why.” Chauvin’s defense team struck him from the list, using bias against police as the reason, and prosecutors did not challenge it, which raised concerns from some.
“We have a Black man who was probably in the best position to judge the case being excluded,” Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney and leader of the Wayfinder Foundation, a community activist group, said at the time the juror was struck.
Armstrong said leaving Juror 76 out of the case was a “huge slap in the face” that “just underscores why people believe there is systemic racism at work within these judicial processes.”
Though the research shows a connection between racial composition of juries and convictions, there aren’t any guarantees in the outcome of the trial.
The prosecution is being led by the office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison who is the first African American in that role in the state’s history.
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