Sympathising with Rachel Jeantel

Watching the video of Trayvon Martin's girlfriend Rachel Jeantel on the witness stand at George Zimmerman's trial, my overwhelming emotion is sympathy. She's the prosecution's star witness and she was dreadful. Surely, George Zimmerman's defence attorneys can't have believed their luck. The prosecution opened with a witness who was illiterate, lied about any number of small things ("writing" a letter that it turns out she couldn't read, attending Trayvon's wake) and who tweeted a trail of destruction about drinking, getting high and driving under the influence before someone deleted the worst offending tweets just before her testimony.

Rachel has clearly been coached and steered by the prosecution team (and possibly hangers-on) on what to say, how to say it and how to present herself. This is part of the game of trials, and everyone does it. But she doesn't really understand what she's been brought into - the personal risk she's bearing with every falsehood she admits to. She's 19 years old, and boys and girls of that age do dumb things. Most of the time no-one's really looking at their acts apart from their mates, but now everyone in the USA has a laser focus on this case and Rachel looks untrustworthy, unreliable, lacking self control and generally everything that a court witness cannot afford to be.

My heart aches that a 19 year old woman can't read - or, presumably, write - cursive script. It's not surprising that Rachel was embarrassed about this, and lied about it. Unfortunately (for the prosecution) this blows a hole a mile wide in the case - reasonable doubt must be a slam-dunk at this point, unless something unexpected crops up in the forensics.

This case should never have been brought to trial. It wasn't headed for trial until political pressure (with cries of "racist killing!") forced the state to prosecute. Political influence on prosecution stops at the courtroom door, and this jury will find George Zimmerman not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin. It may even be that at the conclusion of the prosecution case the defence will successfully move for a dismissal, showing that the state has not proved its case; honestly, though, it would be a very brave judge to let that motion pass. In the mean time Zimmerman has been jailed, forced to spend huge sums on a legal defence, and in effect had his life ruined.

One article I read posed a very interesting (if unprovable) proposition that this case was never intended to succeed. Six months before the 2012 elections in the USA, it was a cause celebre demonstrating homicidal racism in modern America, a rallying point for Al Sharpton and co. The fact that Zimmerman was more Hispanic than white was glossed over, and US media organisations did their part in editing 911 tapes to make Zimmerman appear racist. The elections now over, the race-baiters don't particularly care what happens to Zimmerman; indeed, for them perhaps it's better that he's acquitted so that in 2016 they can rage about that acquittal and "Justice for Trayvon" as another rallying point.

If anyone is serious about improving the lot of black teenagers in the USA - and they damned well should be - they should start by exploring the deficits of the education system that left 19 year old Rachel Jeantel functionally illiterate.

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