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Chloe Riley Headshot

Why This Is Not Really About Trayvon Martin at All

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Robinson is doomed before he ever takes the stand. A black man accused of raping a white woman during Depression Era Alabama, we know his fate and so, even though race is the constant backdrop behind the action -- it's not the heart of the story.

It's about Mayella Ewell. Because the only thing worse than being a black man in the 1920s is being a poor white woman in the 1920s. It's Mayella's last stand and we watch her struggle to tell the truth and transcend her place, but in the end, she lies to protect the real rapist, her father.

Trayvon Martin's friend Rachel Jeantel is the modern day Mayella. In a case devoid of witnesses, Jeantel, who spoke to Martin over the phone as he died, is arguably the closest to understanding what happened that night.

As a woman, there's almost nothing more excruciating than listening and watching as another woman's credibility is torn apart. News sites from CNN to Fox only reinforced what jurors already saw: a barely coherent black 19-year-old who at times directly challenged the defense attorney and who said she could not read a statement because it was written in cursive.

And, like Mayella, Jeantel made the larger mistake of lying. She lied about her reason for not being at Martin's funeral. She lied about her age so she wouldn't have to testify at the trial. Her pointed insecurity as a human being ultimately discounted her testimony. A testimony on which the fate of two men's lives happened to hang.

Trayvon Martin is a victim. But Rachel Jeantel is a victim as well. An almost illiterate 19-year-old who can barely verbalize what it is she witnessed, Jeantel must have known how easily her credibility would be publicly shattered. Her bravery in even taking the stand is stunning.

After Mayella Ewell is cross-examined by Atticus -- a white man in good standing -- Scout Finch has this to say:

I guess if she hadn't been so poor and ignorant, Judge Taylor would have put her under the jail for the contempt she had shown everybody in the courtroom. Somehow, Atticus had hit her hard in a way that was not clear to me, but it gave him no pleasure to do so. He sat with his head down and I never saw anybody glare at anyone with the hatred Mayella showed when she left the stand and walked by Atticus's table.

So far, I've seen a great deal of hate directed towards George Zimmerman. "How could America allow such a killing to go unpunished?" the hatred seems to ask.

It's the same America that allows for a woman to get through high school without being able to read cursive. But on that issue, the flames of anger are strangely unflared.