Rachel Jeantel and Trayvon Martin Were Put on Trial

George Zimmerman's lawyer Don West tried to stigmatize black youth culture as a defense strategy.

“I’m not even supposed to be here.”

The statement made by Lebron James in his post-championship interview was so simplistic that its power was lost on those who weren’t listening for it.

Its meaning is also the core of the Trayvon Martin case: The very presence of a young black man is sometimes a revolutionary act. Depending on the space (boardrooms, neighborhoods), their very being disrupts traditional power structures. As such, black male bodies are so heavily regulated that some have come to believe that their very coming of age is remarkable.

They are not supposed to be here.

So, too, thought George Zimmerman. Because of him, Trayvon Martin will never grow old. This case is about whether or not the state of Florida supports Zimmerman’s point of view.

For days, Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel, still a young person herself, sat across from her friend’s murderer. And as she spoke, defense attorney Don West attacked the simplicity of her words to invalidate her message and her personhood. In the space between the defense table and witness stand, there were unbridgeable generational and cultural gaps.

In the era of unlimited texting plans, West was skeptical about the idea that non-romantic people could send over 100 text messages in a day. In his best corporate speak, he stiffly regurgitated Jeantel and Martin’s dialect to heighten their otherness, as though disregard for conventional English somehow equated to careless impropriety on Martin’s part.

West hammered Jeantel nonsensically about why she chose not to attend her friend’s funeral, attempting to establish behavioral norms to reveal that, again, she operated outside of them. (Jeantel’s response, as noted by the Nation’s blog: ” ‘You. Got. To. Un. Der. Stand,’ she told West, breaking up each syllable to emphasize her frustration. ‘I’m the last person — you don’t know how I felt. You think I really want to go see the body after I just talked to him?’”)

And in attempt to discredit her aptitude, West got Jeantel to admit to a jury of women generations older that she could not read cursive.

Throughout this case, the defense has worked to muddle the lines between victim and perpetrator, making Zimmerman a defender of law, and perhaps more interestingly, of “order.” In a case about standing one’s ground, Jeantel, who became a proxy for her dead friend, stood hers, never faltering from her message: Her friend existed in a place he was supposed to be. And he was killed for it.