Trayvon Martin case: How Rachel Jeantel went from star witness to 'train wreck' (+video)
Rachel Jeantel, the prosecution’s star witness in the murder case of George Zimmerman, sparked a torrent of commentary from both whites and blacks, much of it negative. Will criticism of her demeanor override her crucial testimony?
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That divide epitomizes the trial itself, Mr. Deggans argues: “As each side on this murder trial tries to prove the other person had tendencies toward prejudice and violence that may have sparked the fight, how will jurors [five white women and one Hispanic woman] judge the difference between edgy culture and outright dysfunction?”Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Florida vs. George Zimmerman: Case closed?
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Jeantel spent nearly seven hours on the stand over two days, relating some of the most riveting bits of information about the night Trayvon died, crucial to the case. While others have said they saw the teenager beat Zimmerman, that came only after Jeantel said she heard a heavy-breathing man, allegedly Zimmerman, say to him, “What are you doing around here?” and after Trayvon told her that a “creepy-ass cracker” was following him.
The state alleges that Zimmerman profiled Trayvon, who was returning to his father’s home with a bag of Skittles candy, a can of iced tea, and $40 in his pocket.
The state says Zimmerman chased and confronted Trayvon, and then fired at him only after he realized he was losing the ensuing fight. Zimmerman says he fired in self-defense after the teenager doubled back and attacked him, breaking his nose and bashing his head on the sidewalk.
The killing became a national story after Sanford police refused to charge Zimmerman with a crime, saying they had no evidence to counter his self-defense claim. Forty-four days later, prosecutors finally indicted Zimmerman on second-degree murder charges. If convicted, Zimmerman, an aspiring police officer who served as a neighborhood watch captain, could spend the rest of his life in Florida state prison.
The big question hanging over the trial is whether it was an unarmed Trayvon Martin who claimed his self-defense rights against an armed adult stranger following him in the dark, and whether Zimmerman waived his self-defense rights when he made the decision to pursue Trayvon after noting to a 911 dispatcher that “these [guys] always get away.”
Yet the potential for Jeantel’s testimony to illuminate that central question appeared to sink beneath a wave of commentary about aesthetics, as Christina Coleman summarizes in a Global Grind article called “Why Black People Understand Rachel Jeantel.”
“I … understand why white people wouldn’t like Rachel.… But maybe the reason white people don’t understand Rachel Jeantel has something more to do with white privilege than what they could call Jeantel’s capricious nature,” she wrote.
But Ms. Coleman’s contention that jurors should accept that blacks and whites often live in different worlds rather than as equal members of a polyglot American society is a problematic explanation, writes J. Christian Adams on the Pajamas Media website.
“Coleman sounds like John C. Calhoun, the South’s leading defender of slavery and segregation,” he writes. “Calhoun believed that blacks and whites could never live together, and that after any emancipation they’d forever be ‘worlds apart.’ ”