“Who is Rachel Jeantel?”
I was clueless about this name that suddenly took over my social media timelines on Wednesday. I would have known immediately, if I hadn’t stopped following the Trayvon Martin case. It’s been over a year since Trayvon died, and in that time I feel that the character of that 17-year-old has been mercilessly dragged in the dirt. I’d had enough.
Now George Zimmerman is on trial for second degree murder for killing the Florida teen. Zimmerman has pled not guilty, saying he was attacked and was defending himself from Martin.
A quick Internet search revealed that many outlets were referring to Rachel Jeantel as the prosecution’s “star witness” in the trial, a teen who was on the phone with her friend, Trayvon Martin, shortly before he was shot and killed by Zimmerman in February 2012.
Jeantel’s testimony reveals misrepresentations
On the witness stand she detailed, in a manner that was dissatisfying for some, how Martin said he was being followed by Zimmerman and tried to elude him. Some found her testimony to be a startling blow to the defense’s argument, which seeks to portray Martin as the aggressor.
Others fairly questioned Jeantel’s credibility based on her omissions and untruths. In a cross-examination, the defense pointed out that Jeantel had omitted uglier parts of her conversation with Martin in which he referred to Zimmerman using racial slurs.
“Some creepy-ass cracker is following me,” Martin is alleged to have said, according to Jeantel.
Jeantel said she changed aspects of her story initially to spare Martin’s family from additional anguish. These were not the only lies she told.
She’d previously lied about her age, claiming she was a minor, to protect herself from involvement in the media storm of Martin’s case.
Jeantel also lied about her whereabouts during Martin’s funeral, when she said through tears that she felt guilty for not attending, but explained, “I didn’t want to see the body.”
The online backlash against her
Jeantel shouldn’t have lied, but she did. Her excuses for doing so were understandable, but it’s also understandable why many now question her credibility as a witness based on her revised stories. Some hope, despite presenting herself perhaps too strongly and having been untruthful, that she has not undermined the case of the prosecution.
Sure, these are all negative things. But, after doing my research on Jeantel, what I don’t understand is the venom directed toward her personally online.
“She is [a] walking stereotype, or shuffling one,” a user complained on a Yahoo message board. Another user added, “she obviously has an IQ below 70.” Jeantel’s dark brown complexion and heavy build prompted Instagram photos comparing Jeantel to “Precious,” the tragic, overweight and uneducated heroine in Lee Daniels’ 2009 film of the same title based on the novel Push, by Sapphire.