Watching social media spun outrage over the twists and turns in the trial of George Zimmerman is as compelling as watching the trial itself. The two sides to this story are certainly digging in, and there’s not much wiggle room in between. Courtroom facts are scrutinized under various cultural microscopes and, of course, passions are heating up as we arrive closer to a conclusion. One side wants to give Zimmerman the benefit of any doubt over his motivations that fateful night. In reality, however, Zimmermites are not so much concerned about whether or not he had a legitimate right to do what he did. It’s really about how far they can poke it in the eye of frustrated Black folks. Hence, the trial has evolved into something of a smokescreen for pent up rage and resentments that wouldn’t normally show itself at the water cooler.
On the opposing side are anxious people of color who’ve used the Trayvon Martin case as a symbol of American injustice and the perpetual oppression of a post-slave nation. Martin’s death is merely one tragedy on an endless list of tragedies and grievances. The timing and branding, however, was everything. It’s not like this hadn’t happened before – in fact, it happens daily. But the story ripped through headlines and captured the political imagination of the many activists around it.
What we’re seeing now is a clash between the politics of racial rage and advocacy surrounding that fateful night, and the politics in the courtroom. This is where it can get potentially ugly depending on the outcome. For some reason, there was an expectation of open-and-shut or that the prosecution couldn’t possibly mash this up. But now comes the time to recognize this process for what it really is.
After hours of mind-numbing testimony and the flogging of witnesses such as Rachel Jeantel and Zimmerman in the court of public opinion, the fatigue is showing. Impatience with courtroom process and cunning lawyers doing their job is putting a strain on the narrative. Any assumption that the prosecution would make a speedy example out of Zimmerman is eroding into a million TV court watchers fashioning themselves as legal experts. Some express an almost comical surprise at how much the Zimmerman defense team is holding its own or how attorney Don West cleverly injected reasonable doubt through the subtle racial stigmatization of scrappy witness Rachel Jeantel.
There’s been enough commentary on Jeantel to warrant an expert text on the subject and possibly a reality show makeover slot once the dust settles (you can make strong bets in Vegas on both). Frankly, there’s a bigger discussion lurking in there somewhere about how we want our young people to convey themselves in certain settings, regardless of class, neighborhood or background. It’s called situational awareness and aptitude and it’s something all of us, even a 19-year old, have to employ whether we like it or not.
More peculiar was the assertion by many in the Black chattering class that she was being picked on unfairly in both the courtroom and the public space. While the debate can rage on about the latter, it’s the reaction to the former which struck a few lone voices as somewhat odd. Courts are unfair places – and that’s what lawyers do. They poke holes in witnesses and evidence at all costs, even if it means demeaning the process or the principles behind the process. They draw from some of the nastiest racial water in the well if they have to.
Witnesses must be trained, prepared and groomed prior to taking the stand. So what was new about that? And what made Jeantel so different or so special from that?