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ColorOfChange.org: "Trayvon Martin Is Not On Trial"

From the start of the much-watched Zimmerman murder trial, we've seen a steady stream of media attacks on victim Trayvon Martin. But with last week's onslaught of vitriol and scorn leveled at Witness #8 — Trayvon's friend Rachel Jeantel, who was speaking to Trayvon by phone just moments before he was killed1 — media irresponsibility has reached a disturbing new low.

This trial should be about seeking justice for a young man's violent death, and about how racial stereotypes put the physical safety of young Black men in jeopardy.2 But the media's crude fixation on Rachel's speech and appearance has served to reinforce and magnify dehumanizing stereotypes around both race and class. Using condescending, loaded language,3 the media mocked the looks, intelligence and humanity of a young woman forced to testify about the trauma of being the last person to speak with her close friend before his death.4,5

The media wields incredible power to shape the way Black folks are seen — or unseen6 — in society, and we know all too well that these perceptions can have deadly real-life consequences. ColorOfChange members around the country have mobilized to monitor both national and local coverage of the Zimmerman trial — reporting abuses like those directed at Rachel — and building a new accountability mechanism that's helping us pinpoint where media reform efforts are needed most.

Will you lend us your eyes and ears to help build a more accountable media? Pledge to watch the Zimmerman trial and report irresponsible, dehumanizing coverage.

When Rachel showed exasperation with the needlessly repetitious, antagonizing questioning from white defense attorney Don West7 — whose crass behavior has repeatedly been an issue at trial8 — Fox's Laura Ingraham demanded to know: "do we have to excuse [Rachel's] poor manners, her disrespectful language, and cocky ignorance because she’s black?”9 The New York Daily News deemed Rachel's performance "cringe-worthy,"10 and HLN pronounced her a "train wreck."11 The media also heavily covered the repellant attacks on Rachel taking place in real time on Twitter and other social media.12

Our deeply-ingrained racial stereotypes and cultural biases13 — amplified by news and entertainment media that consistently dehumanizes or ignores most Black folks — is what made it so difficult for those in the courtroom and watching at home to really hear and see Rachel.14 Shaming (and ashamed) commentary from all genders and races concerned with Rachel's presentation — ignoring the critically-important substance of her testimony — speaks volumes about the harmful impacts that these biases have on majority society's view of Black America, as well as on Black folks' own self-image.

When mass media fails to engage in meaningful reporting that challenges racial stereotyping, the public's instinct to malign a young Black woman for her perceived cultural failings is actually dangerous when it pulls focus from what's really at stake in this trial. When West asked Rachel why she didn't call the police after she was unable to get back in touch with Trayvon, Rachel's response that she thought the police were supposed to call her — like in the reality cop show The First 4815 — drew blank stares and derisive laughter. Lost in the resulting flurry of personal attacks was the national scandal of how badly Sanford law enforcement did in fact botch police procedure in this case, failing to look at Trayvon's phone or interview key witnesses for weeks on end, and ultimately necessitating intervention by the federal Department of Justice.16,17

Together, we can put an end to media that dehumanizes young Black people like Rachel and Trayvon and enables a culture in which victim-blaming is the norm. Pledge today to report harmful trial coverage when you see it and help us build a more accountable media.

Thanks and Peace,

--Rashad, Arisha, Matt, Jamar, Kim and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team
July 10th, 2013

Help support our work. ColorOfChange.org is powered by YOU—your energy and dollars. We take no money from lobbyists or large corporations that don't share our values, and our tiny staff ensures your contributions go a long way.


1. "Trayvon Martin's Friend Rachel Jeantel: 'Creepy Ass Cracker Is Following Me,'" Real Clear Politics, 06-26-13

2. "Commentary: Zimmerman’s Effective, Yet Tragic, Blame-the-Victim Strategy," BET, 06-17-13

3. "Friend of Trayvon Martin describes the teen’s final moments," Washington Post, 06-26-13

4. "Rachel Jeantel and Trayvon Martin Were Put on Trial," Philly Post, 07-01-13

5. "One of the Saddest Stories Ever: I Am Rachel Jeantel," Clutch, 07-03-13

6. "Trayvon Martin and Black Manhood On Trial," The Nation, 07-02-13

7. "Witness Rachel Jeantel Rebukes Defense Attorney Theory: ‘That’s Real Retarded, Sir,’" Mediaite, 06-27-13

8. "Trayvon Martin trial spawns insensitive Instagram from defense lawyer's daughter," CNET, 06-29-13

9. "Laura Ingraham Slams Rachel Jeantel Defenders: ‘We Have To Excuse Her Poor Manners...Because She’s Black?'" Mediate, 06-28-13

10. "Rachel Jeantel Gets the Trayvon Martin Treatment," Slate, 06-28-13

11. "Deggans: She failed at 'code switching,'" Tampa Bay Times, 07-08-13

12. "What [BLANK] Folks Don't Understand About Rachel Jeantel," NPR, 06-29-13

13. "Zimmerman case: Is Rachel Jeantel on trial, too?" MSNBC, 06-29-13

14. "Dark-skinned and plus-sized: The real Rachel Jeantel story," Salon, 06-28-13

15. "Love her or hate her, Rachel Jeantel is a star," CNN, 06-28-13

16. "Op-Ed: Trayvon Martin case about much more than race," Digital Journal, 04-12-12

17. "Witness: Sanford police 'Blew us off' in teen slaying," WFTV, 03-15-12

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I'm sorry, but the mainstream

I'm sorry, but the mainstream media will attack anyone if it suits there agenda. No race, color, or creed is excluded.

More efforts to incite a riot

The article does point out the efforts by media to make people despise other people. And then they do it themselves.

It is happening on both sides of the pretend media.

Wouldn't make the news if both parties were of the same race.

Apparently a shooting is not a big deal if your skin colors match.


"This trial should be about seeking justice for a young man's violent death..."

LOL...what a load of horse sh!t.

I'd rather have a bottle in front o' me than a frontal lobotomy

I logged on just to vote this racist post down.

You drip with racist views and/or ignorance.

This trial should be about...

You lost me here:
"This trial should be about seeking justice for a young man's violent death, and about how racial stereotypes put the physical safety of young Black men in jeopardy."

Because this trial isn't about either of those and shouldn't be. This trial is to try and determine beyond reasonable doubt whether Zimmerman acted in self defense.

The media, and yourself, seem to want to make it about anything but...


Young black men are being killed by other young black men; yet they don't seem too concerned about that.

What a load of propaganda. This is why the collectivists (i.e. blacks, hispanics, jews, feminists, LGBT, etc.) are so dangerous. They will stop at nothing to destroy America and usher in their Communist tyranny.

The global elite use these collectivist groups to take control. But the collectivist groups themselves are not innocent in this. They are willing accomplices in tyranny.