The ‘Sundown Town’ Mentality of Zimmerman Juror B37

juror 37b

Anderson Cooper’s interview of juror B37, gave us a glimpse into the mind of one of the jurors who found George Zimmerman not guilty in the slaying of Trayvon Martin. While much of what she said was profoundly disturbing, perhaps the most haunting glimpse into the mindset of this middle-aged Southern white woman’s mentality was the following two sentences…

I think the situation where Trayvon got into him being late at night, dark at night, raining, and anybody would think anybody walking down the road stopping and turning and looking, if that’s exactly what happened, is suspicious. And George said that he didn’t recognize who he was.

George Zimmerman began following Trayvon Martin shortly after 7 PM. Since it was February it was dark outside. But in what world is 7 PM so late that it should arouse suspicion? While the juror insisted that race had nothing to do with the verdict or Zimmerman’s actions, it is hard to imagine that the juror would excuse Zimmerman for stalking her two white adult daughters at just after 7 PM just because he did not recognize them.

The subtext of what the juror said is pretty clear. Trayvon Martin was somebody George did not recognize. He was walking without purpose and he was out after dark. Trayvon Martin did not belong there, because George Zimmerman did not recognize him. Trayvon Martin should have been off the streets before dark, and darkness after all, comes early to Sanford, Florida in February.

A couple of generations ago, Sanford residents ran Jackie Robinson out of town, eventually forcing the Dodgers to relocate their spring training camp outside the racist hamlet. Although this generation of white residents may not be as obviously bigoted as their ancestors, the city, or at least the area patrolled by George Zimmerman, still appears uncomfortable with blacks walking around after dark. Sanford is now a diverse city, but the juror’s mentality and that of George Zimmerman, conjure up images of Sanford’s racially charged past.

Even though juror B37 repeatedly denies that race played an issue in her understanding of the case or in the verdict that was rendered, her voir dire interview reveals a confused woman who, like many white Americans, is probably unaware of her own racism. Although many will accept her denial of racism at face value, her choice of nomenclature and her irrational fears of black criminality suggest a subtle racism that she like so many other whites, is unwilling to confront. In the interview, the juror refers to Trayvon Martin as a “boy of color”. She also states that she “knew there was rioting” in Sanford after Trayvon Martin’s death even though no rioting had actually occurred. Remarkably, she somehow assumes there was rioting in her own community even though no rioting had in fact, taken place.

The juror and her husband were concealed handgun permit holders, perhaps fearful of people they perceived as a threat, namely “boys of color”. In her CNN interview, juror B37 rationalizes the verdict several times with remarks like…

I think George Zimmerman is a man whose heart was in the right place, but just got displaced by the vandalism in the neighborhoods, and wanting to catch these people so badly, that he went above and beyond what he really should have done. But I think his heart was in the right place. It just went terribly wrong. 


I think he (Zimmerman)was frustrated. I think he was frustrated with the whole situation in the neighborhood, with the break-ins and the robberies. 


I think just circumstances caused George to think that he (Martin) might be a robber, or trying to do something bad in the neighborhood because of all that had gone on previously. There were unbelievable, a number of robberies in the neighborhood.

This is the new subtle, but enduring face of American racism. White fears of black criminality have long been a reason for communities to enact exclusionary practices that bar black individuals from being a part of the community after dark. In the “post-racial” era, signs that say “Nigger Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on You in This Town” are no longer posted. 

However, the mindset of juror B37, who asserts “I think the situation where Trayvon got into him being late at night, dark at night” to help justify his murder, suggests that no sign is required. The message is still clear. It translates to something like “Us white folks are afraid of you black folks because there have been a lot of burglaries around here, and well, we are not racist, but do not let the sun go down on you in our neighborhood or we will shoot you dead because we do not recognize you. You might be up to something and therefore you do not belong here after dark.”  That sentiment is a form of racism that is subjective and hard to prove, because unlike a century ago, almost nobody will express it in explicitly racial terms. However, denial that it exists is not the same thing as it not actually existing.