Black Conservatives Comment on the First Week of George Zimmerman Trial, Coverage of Rachel Jeantel Testimony
Washington, D.C. - With the second week of the George Zimmerman trial underway in Florida, featuring the procedural testimony of officers who were involved with the case and crime scene experts, members of the Project 21 black leadership network are critiquing last week's high-profile coverage of opening arguments and alleged "star witness" Rachel Jeantel.
Project 21 co-chairman Horace Cooper, a former law professor, was critical of what he called the overall "rush to prosecution" of Zimmerman. Cooper notes that actual evidence now being presented by the prosecution is hardly living up the hype created by the media after protests about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by Zimmerman and the controversy over "stand your ground" laws that began early last year.
"The first week of the Zimmerman trial demonstrates the perils of a rush to prosecution," said Cooper. "It is remarkable, with the deficiencies in the case, that the state ever chose to bring it."
Charged with second-degree murder, Zimmerman could be sentenced to life in prison if jurors determine he is guilty.
Cooper also criticized the treatment of Jeantel, a long-time friend of Martin whose confrontational relationship with Zimmerman's lawyers was one of the major news stories of the week: "The media and related commentators have done America a disservice by attempting to rehabilitate the state's most important witness using racial and cultural constructs. These artifices attempt to deny the reality of what we and most importantly, what the jury can see. Pretending that Ms. Jeantel's abysmal presentation is somehow a reflection of racial differences in America ignores this reality. In every trial, the credibility of the witnesses matter -- regardless of the age, gender or wealth. Credibility is the key. A witness who can be shown to have lied about case-related matters will be seen as less credible as one who has not."
Analyzing how Jeantel failed to be the bombshell that prosecutors and the media seem to have anticipated, Cooper added: "The issue isn't her accent, youth or the neighborhood she grew up in nor whether white Americans can identify with her. The question is: is she credible? The media's failure to focus on false statements made by Ms. Jeantel about her age, the relationship with the victim and the circumstances of her original statement to authorities exacerbate racial and cultural divisions in our country."
While echoing some of Cooper's criticisms of Jeantel, Project 21 member Djana Milton felt the media put too much emphasis on Jeantel's appearance and delivery, noting the facts she gave will ultimately be more important to the jurors than the way she gave them.
In an upcoming New Visions Commentary to be published by Project 21, Milton wrote:
It's true that Jeantel was a proverbial fish out of water. Her background and upbringing did not prepare her to perform well in a formal courtroom. Saying this is indicative of the ills plaguing the inner-city has merit. But Rachel Jeantel is not on trial. Neither is the inner-city and the destructive forces of its culture and attitude.
What demands scrutiny is whether Zimmerman had a right, under the law, to shoot Martin on the fateful night in question. To the degree that Jeantel can assist in illuminating the events that transpired, up to and including the point where Zimmerman took 17-year-old Martin's life, is relevant and vital.
Jurors must look beyond first impressions, outward appearances and cultural and social divides to glean what they can from Jeantel's testimony. Based on contradictions and plausibility, they may decide her answers don't help them determine Zimmerman's guilt or innocence...
She was on the stand to describe what she knew of the last minutes of Trayvon Martin's life and give voice to words Martin can no longer utter. Her appearance, cringe-worthy grasp of English and less-than-cooperative posture towards an opposing counsel whose strategy included exploiting her shortcomings on social and literacy fronts may not, in the end, have aided Martin's cause. They are, however, irrelevant as far as the merits of the case go.
Project 21 was formed in 1992 when the riots following the verdict in the Rodney King case revealed a need to highlight the diversity of opinion within the black community. For over 20 years, the volunteer members of the Project 21 black leadership network have provided conservative and free-market perspectives that, until that time, were largely unknown or ignored by the establishment media.
During the course of the Zimmerman trial, which is being heard in the Seminole County (FL) Circuit Court, Project 21 members will provide commentary and be available for interviews about the case and the issues surrounding it. Project 21 will issue regular press releases featuring quotes from its members on the breaking news about the trial and any controversies surrounding it.
Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives since 1992, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research (http://www.nationalcenter.org).