19-year-old Rachel Jeantel is the key witness in one of the most emotionally-charged murder trials in years. Jeantel took the stand on Wednesday (June 26) and providing riveting, tearful, and yes, at times, almost-amusing testimony in the very un-funny case of the murder of her friend, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Killed at the hands of neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, Martin was returning from a trip to the nearby 7-Eleven armed only with a can of Arizona and a bag of Skittles.
Within moments of taking the stand, tweets ridiculing Jeantel started rolling in from the way her hair was styled, to her size, to the way she spoke calling her “inarticulate” and according to the twitter feed of a popular blog-site, “retarded.” Ms. Jeantel, whose Twitter page was sanitized hours before she took the stand, was jittery, and serving up eye rolls and disdainful facial expressions that fascinated commentators who tried to weigh in on how her testimony affected the jury, comprised of all women, 1 Hispanic and 5 white. On the second day of her lengthy testimony, Jeantel was calmer, quieter, and seemingly more respectful remarking only that she “got some sleep.”
But, the fact of the matter is Rachel Jeantel is not on trial. George Zimmerman is on trial and he does not dispute that he killed Trayvon Martin, the question at the center of the second-degree murder trial is WHY. Just last year, this case fascinated black America, prompting a flurry of tweets hashtagged #JusticeForTrayvon and Instagram posts of basketball players and rappers in hoodies. Yet, the last few days have found most silent on the subject of the trial.
But not all of us. In fact, I have nothing but love for Rachel Jeantel, in fact, I came up with a whole list of reasons to love her.
1) She is Courageous
Testifying in a murder trial is a scary thing, because no matter what you say, every word is open for scrutiny. There is no room for error in a murder trial, because one person is dead and the other faces lengthy incarceration. Despite not wanting to, going through lengths to avoid having to, Rachel Jeantel took the stand in the trial of the year. She took the stand for justice. She took the stand to speak up for Trayvon who can never again speak for himself. 19, of Haitian-descent, knowing little more than what her Miami-area neighborhood has taught her, she got up on that stand in front of the world.
2) She is Real
With her eyerolling, neck stretching, lip-twisting, acrylic-nail tapping, foot jiggling, and one-liners, Rachel Jeantel was unapologetically herself. She cried when she recalled hurt and she answered every question posed to her. She seemed at times exasperated with the process, and she probably was, questioned for hours, at one point mumbling that she wasn’t returning for further questioning. Yes, she has challenges speaking clearly. No, she can’t read in cursive. But, with the assistance of the prosecution, Jeantel was able to state that some of her speaking and reading challenges rise from the fact that English is not her first language, she also speaks Haitian Creole and Spanish.
3) She Held Her Own
There were times in her testimony, when it seemed as if she were the lawyer, telling defense attorney West, “You can go on,” giving him permission to continue his questioning. Her “Yes, Sirs,” only thinly-veiled in her disdain, not so much for the process, but for the man who is trying to help her friend’s killer go free. When asked why she didn’t go to the police after Trayvon’s death, she plainly stated, “I thought they were supposed to call me. Do you watch First 48?” Her immaturity, lack of understanding of the law, and utter fear were clear, yet she didn’t back down.
4) She is Beautiful
One news channel stated that she “jolted” the crowd in the courtroom when she strode in on silver sandals. Heavyset, dark-complexioned, with her bun and bangs. This was the girl on the other end of the phone? This is who Trayvon talked to for hours and hours on end? Yes. Her dark skin clear as glass, and her smile, even though only barely glimpsed, lit up her face. She was well-dressed, and groomed, her deleted Twitter page alluded to her “court nails.” It’s clear that Rachel Jeantel had to spare one quality that truly makes a woman beautiful… confidence.
5) She’s “Our” Star Witness
Last February, as this case became national news, black America was outraged. We flooded our Facebook timelines and Instagram pages with photos in hoodies, or posed with cans of Arizona or bags of Skittles. We wanted Zimmerman arrested for killing our little “brother,” guilty of only his blackness, walking back one dusky evening to the home of his father’s girlfriend. We were tired. Tired of being gunned down by police and now a neighborhood watchman, authority figures who saw only our dark skin and suspected dark deeds. So why then, were black people so quick to ridicule the one person on whose brave shoulders our victory was riding?
Rachel Jeantel wasn’t a perfect witness. But, she spoke up with all her heart for Trayvon Martin. She did her best to articulate those last moments as she heard them. She is brave teenager and she made me proud. #LoveForRachel