Rachel Jeantel

For the Children of the Corn, Part II

“Oh, I’m so happy! I can get my gun back, go back to my house, and look for another Skittle-toting kid in a hoodie to shoot! Yay me!”

I was sitting in a booth at the Melrose Diner in South Philadelphia when the Associated Press alert on my I-Phone went off, informing me that the jury had reached a verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman.

Zimmerman had been on trial in Sanford, Fla. for second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Briefly, the story goes like this: Zimmerman saw Trayvon as he walked home from a convenience store where he had gone to buy a snack for his little brother. He finds the teen suspicious and calls the cops. Saying, “These assholes always get away..,” Zimmerman decides to pursue Trayvon despite the Sanford Police telling him not to. He shoots the teen in the chest and Trayvon dies. Zimmerman claims self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

(Editor’s note: Under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, you’re allowed to shoot someone if you perceive that they’re about to harm you. They don’t have to actually harm you, however. They just have to look like they would.)

The trial had gone on for three weeks and people were sitting anxiously by their computers, television sets and smartphones waiting for the verdict. If the jury of six women, none of whom was Black, believed he was in a fight for his life, Zimmerman would go home, a free man. If not, he was looking at 25 years.

Shortly after 10, the verdict came: Not Guilty. On all counts. The jury believed Zimmerman’s self-defense claim and now he not only gets to go home, he gets the gun he used to shoot Trayvon back. 


What made me feel sort of hopeful was the reaction. I expected my Black friends to be ticked off. But a lot of my White friends were too. Disgusted was the most commonly used word.

Many folks weighed in via Twitter. Ben Jealous of the NAACP said he was “outraged and heartbroken” over the verdict and vowed to get the Department of Justice involved. Diddy took some time out from promoting his vodka brand to Tweet “I’m hurt and mad as hell! My heart goes out to the family.” My friend Albert Butler of WURD 900AM radio here in Philly reminded us to “Set our clocks back 400 years before going to bed…”

But my favorite Tweet came from the gentleman known as The Field Negro, whose blog you should be reading if you’re not. He said “Maybe Paula Deen will cook Sunday dinner for him tomorrow!”

(I ain’t mad at Paula Deen, but that shit was funny!)

Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s parents, also took to Twitter, thanking everyone for their support.

Not to be outdone, folks who believed that Zimmerman was being railroaded for killing an unarmed kid after being told to let police handle things and not get involved also weighed in. Most notably Ann Coulter, who is someone I can always count on to say the most vile shit on occasions like this. Her Tweet: “Hallelujah!”

(If you ever hear about my going to jail, it is most likely because I have, finally, decided to go to wherever Ann Coulter is, and give her the “People Who Need To Be Punched In The Face Award” for Lifetime Achievement.)

And my Significant Other was so angry that he nearly left the baseball game he was covering because he was to angry to stay. As I have mentioned before, he’s not just a sportswriter. He’s a sportswriter with a masters degree in African American Studies.

Certainly, a lot went on. As I was writing this, a group of African American fraternities and sororities were gathering in front of the White House in protest. Since First Lady Michelle Obama was given honorary membership to the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority shortly before her husband assumed the presidency in 2009, she might have decided to join her clan.

But as I looked at my Facebook and Twitter pages, and heard people debate the verdict in the Melrose Diner, I was relieved by one thing.

I wasn’t teaching. I’m not in school. I don’t have to try and make sense of the Zimmerman Verdict  for The Children of the Corn.

Because, frankly, I couldn’t. They’d say I was full of shit. And in this case, I’d have to agree.

I mean, how can I look in the faces of my kids, kids who have already had a few interactions with the Criminal Justice system or have parents who have, and tell them that justice is equal under the law after a verdict like this?

How do I get them to tell the police what’s going on in their neighborhoods and testify in court when they look at how Rachel Jeantel was treated on the witness stand…and on social media? How do I get them to understand that if they pull out the guns that they want to carry that they’ll get 25 to life if they kill someone?

There are conversations that all parents have to have with their kids. There’s the “Don’t violate curfew” conversation. The “Learn how to clean up after yourself” conversation. And the one that occasionally gets passed off to me by friends who don’t want to deal with their kids getting their freak on, the “You can’t trust a big butt and a smile” conversation.

But for young Black men, there’s a few other conversations that are unique to their experience. Conversations like the “Don’t put your hands in your pockets when you’re standing in front of the Police” conversation. The “Make sure you have all of your ID where the officer can see it” conversation. The “Don’t argue with the Police” conversation…

However, the Zimmerman Verdict gives us one more mandatory conversation to have.

The “Your life as a Black man isn’t worth a plug nickel to folks so act accordingly” conversation.

When Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was playing for the Atlanta Falcons, he was arrested, tried and convicted for having a dogfighting ring and brutally disposing of the losers. He spent two years in federal prison for his crime.

A woman named Marissa Alexander is doing 20 years in a Florida prison for firing a warning shot_—not hitting him, just firing a warning shot—at her abusive ex-husband. She wasn’t allowed to use Stand Your Ground despite having a credible threat posed to her.

But you can shoot a young, Black man for being “perceived” as a threat to you, and walk out of court a free man.

How do I explain that to a group of people who have already been thrown away at least once? How do my friends who are parents figure that out? And why, for that matter, do we have to?

My friend Tracy sent out a Tweet saying that calling Zimmerman, who copped to no Latino heritage until he shot Trayvon Martin, a Hispanic man and asking when all of the talk about the role race plays in stuff like this was going to stop.

I told her that it would stop when my kids could walk down the street with a hooded sweatshirt pulled over their head, and be assumed to be shooting hoops, not guns.

And that day, was not Saturday. July 13.


This Week In Bad Communication

This has been one of those weeks where it seemed as if news was coming out of the woodwork.
From the Supreme Court deciding that a key provision of the Voting Rights Act was no longer needed despite a seemingly endless trail of evidence to the contrary to another Court decision that guarantees I’ll be invited to some really FABULOUS weddings in the not-to-distant future, it’s been a memorable week for news junkies.
But there were two events that everyone had their eye on and had an opinion about. One involved the woman sitting across from Anderson Cooper in this video, the trial of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. The woman talking with Cooper in this clip is Alicia Stanley, Trayvon’s stepmother, who helped raise him for 14 years, but hasn’t been heard from much.
The second was the revelation that Paula Deen, a personal favorite of us here at The Mad (political) Scientist, had not only called someone a nigger at least once, which as a 66-year-old woman from Albany, Ga. didn’t surprise me a whole lot, but had also looked at planning a plantation-style wedding for her brother Bubba, and had been a lot less than fair to her African American employees.
(And she’s a friend of former President Jimmy Carter’s! I wonder if he knew about this?!)
Now the reason that I’m singling out these two incidents is because they are examples of what happens when you communicate poorly or worse yet HIRE people who communicate poorly. While everyone has taken shots at poor Rachel Jeantel for giving us attitude on the witness stand in the Zimmerman trial, I submit that between the Martin family and Paula Deen and company, there was enough ill communication for Jeantel, who is literate in three languages, to make everyone else look stupid.
I’ll start with the fact that Alicia Stanley wound up on AC 360 in the first place.
Ms. Stanley helped raise Trayvon Martin for nearly 15 years when she was married to his father, Tracy.  They broke up shortly before Trayvon’s death, but since she had been a part of the young man’s life since he was 3, she saw him as a son.
“I raised him along with my two girls,” she told Cooper on CNN last night.
But what made Stanley come on national television was the fact that she felt her contribution to Trayvon’s life had been dismissed. She wasn’t allowed to sit in the front row at his funeral. She wasn’t being told anything about the trial.
She was being made to feel like she didn’t exist, Stanley said.
There was no communication.
So Stanley tearfully put the Martin Family Business out in the street.
Like, for example, she says that Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s natural mother, wasn’t as involved in her son’s life as she’s being made out to be now. When Trayvon felt sick or needed to talk, he came to Stanley, not his mom.
My guess is that right about now Tracy Martin, who really comes off as kind of a cad here, and Sybrina Fulton, who comes off as someone who didn’t show up until the cameras, lawyers, and fame showed up, can see Alicia Stanley from space.
But you know what could have kept all of this from happening?
Better communication.
If Tracy Martin had kept his Second Ex-Wife in the loop about her stepson, she wouldn’t have felt the need to go to Anderson Cooper. If he had let her sit in the front row and mourn Trayvon’s passing, she never would have been sitting across from the host of the one show on CNN that people actually watch telling her story.
A simple daily phone call, a little extra thought, and a little finesse could have kept Alicia Stanley out of the public eye…and could have kept the Martin Family from having to put a steak over it’s black one…
But lest you think that poor communication is strictly the parlance of blended families with lower middle-class bank accounts, may I submit Paula Deen for your approval?
Until earlier this week, Deen was the host of the only show that my Significant Other and I could watch together on Food Network, Paula’s Home Cooking. 
But now, she’s out of work. Real out of work.
Not only has Food Network sent her packing, but Wal-Mart, Target, Sears, K-Mart, Smithfield Hams, QVC, Norvo Nordisk, Walgreens, JC Penney, and even her publisher Ballantine Books have told Ms. Paula to go play on I-76, despite, in the case of Ballantine Books, Deen’s new cookbook hitting number one in pre-order sales on Amazon.com.
While Norvo Nordisk and QVC promise to revisit their relationship with Deen once everything dies down, everybody else has torn up the contracts and moved along.
The center of Deen’s problems is a lawsuit that was filed by Lisa Jackson, a former employee in Deen’s brother Bubba Hiers’s restaurant. In the suit, which was filed against Deen and Hiers (because Deen was a co-owner), Jackson accuses Hiers of sexual harassment, racism and mistreatment of African American employees.
What ended up getting Deen in trouble was a National Enquirer article that detailed her deposition in this lawsuit, which contained the admission that she had used the word ‘nigger” at least once and had advocated a special kind of wedding for her brother, who liked to watch porn while at work…
From the deposition…
“[W]hen asked if she wanted black men to play the role of slaves at a wedding she explained she got the idea from a restaurant her husband at dined at saying, “The while entire waiter staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie. I mean, it was really impressive. That restaurant represented a certain era in America…after the Civil War, during the Civil War, before the Civil War…It was not only black men, it was black women…I would say they were slaves.”
Can we talk about how this info. came out on Juneteenth, the day celebrated as the day that the slaves in Texas learned they had been emancipated…?
And then there were the videos. 
First there was this one, an interview with the New York Times that introduced us to Deen’s “Black friend…”

…and yes, she did say ‘He’s as black as this board…” You weren’t hearing things.

And then there were the two videos she did instead of going on the Today Show like the Food Network told him to…which were pretty bad and have been rendered unable to be embedded.

Finally, Deen went on Today, probably at the behest of her new PR guru, Judy Smith.

For those of you who don’t know who Smith is, she’s the person you bring in when you’ve screwed up so badly that the level of screwed you are borders on grotesque. She’s worked with the first President Bush, Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Michael Vick, President Bill Clinton’s jump-off Monica Lewinsky, and others.

She’s also the inspiration for the character of Olivia Pope of the television show Scandal. 

And scandal kind of describes Deen’s Today appearance, which was not one of Smith’s finest hours…

My personal favorite part was where she invites anyone who hasn’t said a hurtful remark to throw a boulder at her head and kill her.

Of course, the Internet, as it tends to do responded…

I know, I know. That’s dead wrong. Funny. Not nearly as funny as #PaulasBestDishes or #PaulaDeenTVShows on Twitter, but funny. And wrong. Dead wrong.

But Deen probably wouldn’t be dealing with ripped up contracts, Internet memes, and accusations of racism if she didn’t have possibly the dumbest PR and legal staffs perhaps in the world…pre-Judy Smith that is…

First of all, if her PR staff had let her do the initial Today Show interview instead of two very bad videos, a move that Food Network cited as it’s reason for sending Deen on her way, she might have been able to clear this up.

But secondly, if her legal staff would have said the following sentence to Lisa Jackson, the deposition and all that’s come after it could have been avoided. That sentence: “Let’s settle this out of court.”

Contrary to rumor, people who file a lawsuit aren’t nearly as gung-ho about going to court as you might think. What they really want is compensation of some sort, acknowledgement that you screwed up, and a promise that you’ll do better.

My guess is that Jackson would have been willing to compromise if someone would have communicated to her a willingness to do the same.

Instead, Deen is looking at a empire in tatters. Granted, she should also be looking at beating the mess out of her little brother, but that’s just me.

Now President Carter, who weighed in just as I was writing this, says that Deen should apologize, tell folks about her community service, and otherwise keep her head up.

Bur if he really wants to help his friend, he’ll teach her how to communicate.

Seems like there’s a need for that going around…

I’m gonna leave you with some music from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame hip-hop masters The Beastie Boys because they knew all about Ill Communication…kinda like these folks…

For The Children Of The Corn…

Can I get a break?

Like many of you, I’ve been watching the trial of George Zimmerman and paying a lot of attention to the woman pictured above, Rachel Jeantel.

Jeantel was the person on the other end of the phone when Trayvon Martin made his last phone call. She was the one he told about the “creepy cracker’ following him as he left the 7-Eleven with the iced tea and Skittles he had just bought for his little brother.

She was the last one to talk to him. And for her trouble, she spent two days getting questioned on the witness stand by a prosecuting attorney who obviously doesn’t know a damned thing about witness prep and a defense attorney who I can’t describe in a family blog.

And unfortunately, she’s also been beaten up a bit, by Black folks, on Social Media.

Why? Because Jeantel speaks quietly. She doesn’t speak really well. English isn’t her first language and she’s never been taught how to write in cursive. She kinda had an attitude on the stand. She didn’t want to be there and didn’t care if you knew it.

So she got savaged. Folks called her Precious, like the character from that really trying movie that I’ve yet to see, made fun of everything from her hair to her skin tone and even said that her testimony would lead to Zimmerman’s acquittal.

Reading some of the comments kind of pissed me off because Jeantel could have been one of my kids.

Those of you who are frequent readers of The Mad (political) Scientist know that when I’m not covering politics, I’m teaching media arts at an alternative high school in Southwest Philadelphia.

Maurice and I at the Prom

To say that my kids, who I affectionately refer to as The Children of the Corn, are a challenge, is an understatement. Most of them have been kicked out of every school they ever went to. Some kicked themselves out. Others became parents and needed a little extra help.
Hanging out at Morgan State

I have girls who swear that they’re boys, kids who have mouths like sailors, and one kid, Rahkeem, who greeted me every morning with “Good Mornin’…my nigga!” despite my telling him every day that I didn’t care for that.

(Did I mention that for my birthday Rahkeem actually came in and had a conversation with me in which he WASN’T high? That was pretty rare for him. He went to everyone he knew and said “Ms. Clay asked me not to get high for her birthday, so I didn’t!”)

They don’t talk good. They don’t like courtrooms because many of them have spent far too much time in them. The idea of having to be in an outfit that didn’t lead to Ms.Clay screaming, “Pull up your friggin’ pants!” isn’t something they’re into.

But at their core, and sometimes I felt like I had to dig like a coal miner to get to that core, they were good people.

They helped me up the stairs when I broke my ankle. (Granted, they also offered me pills from their stash of Percocet, but we won’t talk about that…)

Some of them helped me sell pretzels and water ice to finance their prom.

Others made sure that I was okay when I lost my brother Donnie to a heart attack. 

And when many of them graduated from the program earlier this month, I got more than one thank you….and the occasional bear hug…

I don’t get paid a lot of money to hang out with the Children of the Corn. In fact, I sometimes spent more time helping them get through school than I got paid for. But the only thing that kept me from being them was being born to a set of parents who put a premium on education and nurtured me.

In other words, i got real lucky. Considering that many of my kids don’t have the greatest of relationships with their parents, that’s significant.

So my karmic debt gets paid by teaching kids about media, why it’s important, and how media portrayals determine how you’re treated.

What are you looking at from a karmic standpoint?

Well, to me, if you’re ridiculing a kid, and at 19, Jeantel is a kid to me, your karma is taking a beating. If you’re looking down your nose at that kid when you could be helping her do better, your karma is at  a deficit. If you’re ready to make her the scapegoat for a family that might be denied justice for a murdered son, I don’t want to be around you if a piano is hovering overhead…

So as the late John Lennon said “Instant Karma’s gonna get ya…”

Plus, you should know better. Especially when you’re part of a race of people who are always being doubted…

So when you see the Rachel Jeantels of the world, don’t look down on them. 

Especially if they’re a Performance Learning Center graduate.

Because, while I can call them the Children of the Corn, if I hear you do it, I’ll kick your ass.

This is Jael James. She was PLC’s Valedictorian with a 3.6 GPA…