The young friend of slain teenager Trayvon Martin made her first public remarks since George Zimmerman was found not guilty on Saturday, vigorously defending Martin's reputation and saying race played a role in his death and Zimmerman's acquittal.
Appearing on CNN’s “Piers Morgan” program, Rachel Jeantel responded to an avalanche of public attention following her testimony at Zimmerman’s trial.
“Don West is lucky I’m a Christian,” Jeantel, 19, said when asked how she was treated in the courtroom by defense attorney Don West. “The only reason I have not said anything to Don West is because my parents have taught me better.”
Asked for her response to the jury’s not guilty verdict, Jeantel was circumspect, saying, “Disappointed. Upset. Angry. Question [sic]. And mad.”
She also added that while Trayvon Martin did occasionally smoke marijuana, he never displayed aggressive behavior or expressed an interest in firearms. She said that Martin likely smoked marijuana about two times per week, and that it was a normal amount for teens in the area.
“In my area, weed for Trayvon, weed don’t make him go crazy,” she said. “It just make him hungry.”
And despite recent comments from one of the jurors in the case, Jeantel says she does believe race played a role in Zimmerman’s actions and in the jury’s decision to acquit him.
“It was racial. Let’s be honest,” she said. “If Trayvon was white and he had a hoodie on, would that have happened? It happened around 7 o’clock, that’s when people walk their dogs.”
And on the jury saying race played no role: “They’re white.”
Jeantel says she “had a feeling” that Zimmerman would be found not guilty.
She also had a strong response to those who have mocked her for her unusual speaking style during her testimony, explaining that her speaking style is due to an underbite for which she has received medical treatment.
“A lot of people have the same issue I have right now. I have an underbite,” she said.
“It’s not that I didn’t want to be there,” she added. “There was a lot of stress. I’d been dealing with a lot of stress for 16 months. I had been grieving.”
She also said she thinks Zimmerman should have taken the stand in his own defense. When asked what she now thinks of Zimmerman, she said, “Weak. Scary. Hiding from his father. If you were a real man, you would have stood on that stage and told them what happened.”