It’s Easy to Gawk at Rachel Jeantel


“Sak Pase.” That’s the greeting that Rachel Jeantel and many in her community would reply to. It means “what’s up” in Creole, the language native to Haiti, where she and her mother are from. I knew immediately that she was of Haitian (and Dominican) descent based on her last name, Jeantel. I know this because I spent the first 16 years of my life growing up in the most diverse city in the United States. Miami. My neighborhood school was the same school Rachel attends. The roux of this perfect gumbo of Caribbean culture is where we both call home. But one thing that creates a divide between this community and mainstream America is often the dialect and accents that those outside of that community often have trouble understanding.  For the past two days, Rachel Jeantel has been on the stand in the Trayvon Martin murder trial doing her very best to hold it together while America has turned her appearance and her acumen into fodder for their jokes.  People focused more on how she delivered her message, than the fact that this key witness was struggling to detail the last moments of her friend’s life, which she unknowingly bore witness to.  Never mind that she speaks THREE languages though English is not her first language. It’s easy to gawk at a large, dark-skinned, young black woman and pick her apart like vultures because her subjects and verbs don’t agree. And that goes for the Whites and Blacks alike who have torn her down on social media today.  But why are we, the Judgy McJudges of America so focused on that? What everyone should have paid attention to was the fact that Rachel Jeantel never wavered from her version of the events the night Trayvon was killed. She may have told MORE of the story to those who asked the right questions, but she never wavered. Talking to teenagers is like pulling teeth with a rusty wrench. But if you ask the right questions, you get the right answers. And the State did that when Rachel was on the stand. The sad part of the long, painful two days of testimony wasn’t the muffled sound of Rachel’s voice or the combative nature of her responses at times. The sad part was the disrespect of Defense Attorney Don West who knew of Ms. Jeantel’s challenges and limitations and exploited them so deeply on cross examination.

As an attorney, I understand the need to score points on cross especially with such an important witness.  But what I do not think he placed true value in, was the six women sitting in the jury box watching him attempt to ridicule and embarrass a 19 year old girl on the stand in front of millions of viewers.  Women do not play those games. White, latina, black or otherwise, women are inherently the more empathetic sex especially related to violence against women and children. And the assault waged on Rachel today was indefensible. Asking (in a condescending voice)  if she can read, and “are you ok? You seem so different today than yesterday.” Inferring that she was somehow changed by conversation with others or perhaps medicated in an effort to get under her skin was disgusting.  The utter disrespect he showed will backfire on him with those jurors. Most of black America seemed to be in one big prayer circle around Rachel Jeantel today because of the fear that people outside of her community will never be able to see through the messenger to get to the message.  I pray that they are wrong.

Originally published by on June 28, 2013 on 

About Sweet Nothings

I went to college and majored and Mass Communications/Public Relations but decided to take my passion for promoting others to law school....where i could then learn to promote MYSELF! Kidding. Kind of. Now I'm a lawyer. 8 years later, big whoop and womp womp.
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2 Responses to It’s Easy to Gawk at Rachel Jeantel

  1. Zeudo Nemm says:

    Instead of defending her, it should be a wake up call for society. Why do we tolerate people who lack the personal responsibility to take advantage of the help we give them?

    There are other students at her school which grew up in the same conditions. Children of immigrants in ghetto neighborhoods. They went on to excel, became honor students, and later on lawyers, doctors and politicians.

    Rachel was in our public school system from the age of five until today. A school system which taught her English. She uses English as her main language, as seen in her posts on Facebook and Twitter. She has surrouded herself with American culture, from Hiphop to our slang. Sorry, but we can’t blame her personal flaws on the homeland her parents moved from before she was even born. One is not born stupid. It’s your choices…

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