News Column

George Zimmerman Arrest Viewed Differently According to Race

June 17, 2013

Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to believe that George Zimmerman would have been arrested immediately had Trayvon Martin been white, according to a new study co-written by a UCF professor.

The study, co-authored by University of Central Florida criminal justice professor Kareem Jordan, also suggests that Hispanics are much less likely than blacks to perceive that race played a role in last year's shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, in Sanford.

Sanford police did not immediately arrest Zimmerman, who was charged later by a special prosecutor with second-degree murder. Jury selection is under way in his trial.

Jordan and Professor Shaun L. Gabbidon of Penn State University conducted the study to gauge how people's backgrounds affect their perceptions about criminal injustice.

"This is a real-life issue about a real-life case that has garnered a lot of attention, and people are clearly interested in this case," Jordan said. "I think it's very good for people to see how race may or may not play a factor in perception."

In their study, Jordan and Gabbidon used national random-sample data from a 2012 USA Today/Gallup Poll.

Jordan said he was most surprised to learn that Hispanics were almost as likely as whites to believe that race played no role in Zimmerman's decision to shoot the unarmed 17-year-old in a gated community.

Previous studies, he said, have indicated that Hispanic perceptions of criminal injustice tend to align more closely with those of blacks.

More than 90 percent of blacks perceived that race played a role in the shooting, compared with 68 percent of whites and 74 percent of Hispanics.

Eighty-one percent of blacks said they believed Zimmerman would have been immediately arrested had Trayvon been white. That compares with fewer than 40 percent of whites and 51 percent of Hispanics.

The study, published in the academic Journal of Crime and Justice, also found that Hispanics are less likely than blacks or whites to follow the court case closely. Jordan said one reason is that Hispanics might not identify with Zimmerman. While Zimmerman describes himself as Hispanic and his mother is Peruvian, much of the media coverage has focused on Trayvon's race. or 407-420-5470


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