Rachel Jeantel’s face lit up when describing how she and Trayvon Martin would sometimes talk on the phone all day. “He was a calm, chill, loving person. Loved his family, definitely his mother,” Jeantel said on CNN. “And a good friend.”
Poised and confident, the 19-year-old Jeantel came off differently than she did anxiously testifying before a Florida court about the last moments of Martin’s life. In a post-trial interview, a juror said bluntly that on the stand, Jeantel ”wasn’t credible.”
“I think she felt inadequate toward everyone because of her education and her communication skills. I just felt sadness for her,” the white, female juror told Anderson Cooper in an interview earlier this week. While Jeantel spoke at length about Martin, the juror–who has insisted on remaining anonymous—was clearly moved by another person, George Zimmerman. Zimmerman shot and killed the 17-year-old and unarmed Martin in February, 2012. He said he acted in self-defense after he was attacked by Martin. A jury acquitted him of committing a crime.
“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,” said the Juror, identified only as Juror B37.
Listening to the back-to-back interviews which aired Monday, it is hard to believe these two women—different backgrounds, different ages—were in the same courtroom.
Jeantel knew the victim like only a best friend could. The juror was a stranger to Martin who sat in judgment and anonymity. But she left the trial believing she understood and could relate to the defendant. “Do you feel like you know him?” Cooper asked. “I do,” juror B37 responded. Then: “I feel like I know everybody.”
Jeantel told CNN’s Piers Morgan she was “angry” Zimmerman had been acquitted. Juror B37 was forgiving. “I think he just didn’t know when to stop. He was frustrated, and things just got out of hand.”
The divide between these two women, their perceptions of the case and the two men involved, reflect the same gulf on display nationally in the aftermath of Zimmerman’s acquittal. If America is having a “conversation” about race, it’s happening in different rooms. The vast majority of black Americans are certain race played a role in Martin’s death. Another poll shows that a majority of white Americans believe it did not.
Juror B37 told Cooper that she thought race had nothing to do with it. ”I mean, just because he was black and George was Spanish or Puerto Rican, I don’t think it had anything to do with this trial, but I think people are looking for things to make race play a part in this trial.” Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is Hispanic, Zimmerman himself has identified as Hispanic.
Jeantel told Morgan on the same network later that night that race had everything to do with it. “It was racial. Let’s be honest. Racial,” Jeantel said. “If Trayvon was white and he had a hoodie on, would that happen?”
What role race may have played in Zimmerman’s acquittal remains a point of dispute. The crowds protesting Zimmerman’s acquittal across the country agree with Jeantel: If not for the fact that Martin was black, he’d still be alive.
Legal experts predicted far in advance that a combination of Florida’s self-defense laws and the circumstances of the case—the only witnesses to the fateful confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin were themselves—made Zimmerman’s acquittal likely. While it would be impossible, absent new evidence, to prove in court what role race may have played in Martin’s death, simply denying that race plays any role is tantamount to denying the role that race place every day in American life.
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