It’s been almost three years since George Zimmerman was acquitted for shooting and killing black teenager Trayvon Martin, which led to the creation of “Black Lives Matter,” protesting the use of force -- deadly and otherwise -- by law enforcement against young black men.
Anyone who doubts the nation’s racial polarization, or Black Lives Matter’s impact in the wider community, should have been present for jury selection this week at Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center.
The case was Commonwealth v. Ioven, the trial of former SEPTA police Officer Douglas Ioven, charged with roughing up and arresting registered nurse Muibat Williamson on Christmas morning 2013. Williamson had accused the officer of butting in line and stepping on her foot as she waited in the Dunkin’ Donuts shop in the concourse of Suburban Station. She threatened to complain to his supervisor. The Common Pleas Court jury of six men and six women is expected to begin deliberating late Monday or Tuesday.
Now, there was no evidence of a racial motive -- on either side -- behind the incident in the two days of prosecution testimony this week. There was only the reality that Ioven, 44, is white and Williamson, 54, a Nigerian-born U.S. citizen, is black.
Nevertheless, what was expected to be a half-day of jury selection stretched out over two days and more than 100 prospective jurors as Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wellbrock and defense lawyer Joseph Silvestro Jr. worked to find what they hoped was an impartial, fair jury.
Some of the questions put to prospective jurors by Judge Anne Marie Coyle were not unusual: Would you believe the testimony of police officers over another witness just because they are police officers? Some said yes, some said no.
Two others questions seemed to nullify more prospective jurors. Do you believe law enforcement treats African American citizens more harshly? Have you or anyone close to you participated in protests by Black Lives Matter or in other protests against police violence?
One after another, those questions caused the rejections of prospective jurors – black and white. The final 12-member jury includes nine whites, two African American women and one African American man.