#30in30 Day 9: Why Do We Lack Empathy For Certain People?

The trial of George Zimmerman has been underway much of this month. This week, the prosecution’s star witness, Rachel Jeantel, took the stand. She’s the young lady who was on the phone with 17 year old Trayvon Martin before and during the altercation that lead to his tragic murder. I wasn’t able to watch her full testimony. But Twitter live-tweeted the cross examination and gave me the “highlights” of her testimony.

What came to light is the disingenuous approach and void of empathy some people are capable of. This isn’t the first time a person involved in the Martin case has been lambasted by obnoxious a-holes. I vividly remember when this first became a case of national notoriety, the family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, was openly mocked for being “too country, too Southern”. Having no knowledge of his professional background or success rate as a lawyer in Florida, so many were quick to say the family should have and deserved better representation than Mr. Crump. Although, without him mobilizing the minority population in both Sanford and the state at large, this case wouldn’t have hit the national stage. The fact that George Zimmerman was never further questioned until the family pressed for an investigation is indicative that this case would have never made it to criminal proceedings either.

Some people have a habit of being antagonistic when it comes to the have-nots. They have a certain (usually unfavorable) opinion of people based on their own perceptions of said people. So when Rachel Jeantel took the stand and gave her testimony, it came as no surprise that they broke down her manner of speaking and courtroom decorum. Don West, defense for Zimmerman, was relentless yet subtle in his attack. The clips that I’ve seen seemed to play up courtroom theatrics the entire time Jeantel was on the stand. And like clockwork, people played right into his strategy. Although I didn’t see it on my TL, people were criticizing everything from her weight to the fact that she was displaying stereotypical angry black woman attitude. The coverage on HLN remarked on Wednesday about how she wasn’t speaking the “Queen’s English”. There’s a major dissenting opinion who felt like she was a bit of an embarrassment and showed how the educational system is failing the inner city.. Be that as it may, some people felt because she wasn’t as eloquent and well-coached, her testimony could hurt more than help. I vehemently disagree!

Let us not forget that this young woman essentially heard her friend be attacked, then murdered, by a hard-headed vigilante. Let us not forget that this young woman was pressured into a legal situation that she didn’t want to be a part of. Let us not forget that aside from the science in the case, much of the prosecutor’s argument for 2nd degree murder rests on Jeantel’s accurate and honest account of what happened that night. Should she be frustrated on the stand? Yes! Is she allowed to be vulnerable under the scrutiny? Yes! Her testimony is the only way Trayvon’s version of events and his experience of being victimized and murdered will be heard. That’s a great deal of responsibility that most adults couldn’t handle.

I feel for this young lady in a multitude of ways. Independent of carrying around the burden that of being the last person to hear Trayvon’s voice, there’s so many things being written about her that are insensitive and outright wrong. She didn’t choose to become a figure in a high-profile case. It was a legal obligation. So it should be expected that her grief comes off as exasperation. If 1 of your close friends had died, would you want cameras in your face? Wouldn’t you be fed up having to answer the same questions over and over? Sure, it’s part of the legal process. But no amount of preparation can have you ready to endure what this young lady is dealing with.

It’s easy for us to advise on what’s “proper behavior” or a “correct response” in a situation when we’re so far removed from it. The bottom line in all of this is Jeantel is a real person who had real emotional attachment to a real person that she lost. When someone is dealing with loss of any kind, instead of projecting your nature onto them, exercise at least an attempt to understand.


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