A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Race and Justice in America

By Colleen Kearney Rich on May 4, 2016

In the new book Deadly Injustice: Trayvon Martin, Race, and the Criminal Justice System (New York University Press, 2015), Mason criminology, law and society professor Devon Johnson and coeditors Patricia Y. Warren of Florida State University and Amy Farrell of Northwestern University use the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case to explore how highly publicized criminal cases shape public opinion about offenders, the criminal process, and justice in the United States.

Devon Johnson

Devon Johnson

The bulk of the book focuses on Trayvon Martin. What made you decide to put together this book?

The Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman incident sparked an intense national debate about race and justice in America. We wanted to use the case as a springboard to present and examine the social scientific evidence related to these issues. The goal was to provide a scholarly perspective that compliments and adds to the discussions of race and justice issues that occur on news broadcasts, across social media, and in everyday life.

What is your chapter about?

The chapter I co-wrote examines how the race or ethnicity of a defendant may influence jury and judicial decision-making, and criminal case outcomes. The media focused a lot of attention on possible explanations for Zimmerman’s acquittal, including his ethnicity, Trayvon Martin’s race, and the composition of the jury. We examine these issues using data from the National Center for State Courts.

The topic has been in the news for several years now. Do you feel the country has made any progress on this topic?

The discussions about race and justice that emerged in response to Trayvon Martin’s death have only intensified in the wake of so many highly publicized incidents of police misconduct over the last two years. I think coverage of these issues has opened people’s eyes to the fact that some members of society do not receive equal treatment under the law. These incidents and the protests that followed have led to federal investigations, and there have been some changes in police practices and training. The challenges we face have a long history, however, and it will take time and a sustained effort to produce systemic change.

What kind of research are you currently working on?

I am currently conducting research on public perceptions of procedural justice and police legitimacy in the United States and the Caribbean. I just completed data collection for one study last semester, which involved the participation of undergraduate students from the Department of Criminology, Law and Society.

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