Attempts to read broad political conclusions into these 3 jury decisions feel like overreach

Attempts to read broad political conclusions into these 3 jury decisions feel like overreach
Judge Bruce E. Schroeder, screenshot
Rittenhouse judge goes off on a tangent about his grievances against the media
Legally speaking, the jury in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial in Kenosha, Wisc., only cleared him of the specific charges of intentionally killing two and injuring a third. Whatever way the verdict is being celebrated in conservative quarters, it was not a blanket promotion of self-defense laws as a blind for carrying semi-assault weapons in a protest over another racial policing incident.

In Charlottesville, Va., the jury decision in a lawsuit that slapped $25 million in penalties on nine white supremacists for organizing hate rioting that ended in a fatality specifically stopped short of finding broader hate crimes at play.

What we should take away from all three trials is that race is a live issue in America, critical theories taught or not. Our state and federal lawmakers and courts are ill-prepared or ill-motivated to fix the root problems.

And in Brunswick, Ga., on Wednesday, state prosecutors won guilty findings against three white defendants who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery for jogging while Black. But race was specifically downplayed through a trial that almost never came about. The jury decision could not be read as a broad rejection of laws allowing citizen arrest.

What we should take away from all three trials is that race is a live issue in America, critical theories taught or not. Our state and federal lawmakers and courts are ill-prepared or ill-motivated to fix the root problems.

There are those who want to pat the justice system on the back a couple of times in praise that the system worked as intended. If anything, the system barely worked in each case.

Taking a Closer Look

On cue, after each individual decision, we see the pundits, the hangers-on and the official trial watchers take the verdicts as a Go sign to launch broadsides about the state of American values. It may be a valiant effort to find meaning, but these are opinions based on too little information.

In Kenosha, the prosecutors proved inadequate, and the defense managed to turn a story about a teen crossing state lines to pick up a rifle into a specific couple of moments before the gun went off – three times – in self-defense.

Donald Trump unartfully even told his followers that Rittenhouse never should have been prosecuted in the first place. The political Right is falling over itself to make Rittenhouse a hero rather than worrying about the obvious conclusion that the self-defense argument is going to spawn more incidents.

In Charlottesville, the lawsuit seeking financial penalties came about because the feds could not prosecute a criminal case.

There is no chance that a white nationalist movement will go out of business; it will continue to return, as it is in Europe, under different stripes.

And in Brunswick, Ga., the county district attorney who had original control of the case did not bring charges at all, botched the investigation and now faces criminal charges herself.

The prosecution itself flowed by several offices before a state agency took it out of the hands of local district attorneys.

It doesn’t sound like the justice system working as intended. It sounds more like something between luck and persistence to even get these cases to court.

And it will require another federal prosecution of the same circumstances to even air the arguments about race and seeing this killing as a hate crime.

Perhaps the best television comment was that the guilty verdicts in Georgia represented relief, not rejoice.

Hyper-Sensitivity on Race

We’ve become hyper-sensitized to these individual trial outcomes, just as we are to so many localized election decisions, state laws or protests that become nationalized by television. They have become our surrogates for national discussions and our leaders, our businesses, our academicians all become invested in using their pretext to push a point of view.

Just as America complains through school board protests and book bans that it is upset just to hear about Race and Divide, we are fixated exactly on Race and Divide.

So, half the country is delighted that there is no legal problem with teen Rittenhouse deploying and shooting a semi-assault rifle to defend against Black Lives Matter protesters. Half the country celebrates joyously that three self-styled enforcers are convicted for hunting down Arbery in a mostly white neighborhood.

  • The difference between conviction and blanket release may rest:
  • in the weirdness of jury makeup
  • whether the prosecution picked the right charges for this jury
  • over the procedural rulings of the individual trial judge
  • over whether there were enough citizen-generated video to show more than one version of events

The trials are not national votes about policing, race or public policies over stand-your-ground laws.

The sad truth in all these trials is that the incidents should never have happened. The teen had no business being in Kenosha in the first place. The three guys in Georgia had no business stalking Arbery.

We continue to see these aberrant trials because we have accustomed ourselves to fear of The Other and the need for self-protection and self-comfort in all things.

That, in turn, has created an interpretation of the Second Amendment to:

  • allow and encourage vigilantes
  • spread concealed carry permissions for legal guns
  • put police and protesters alike in personal danger
  • create laws that should have no need to exist, particularly with loose language that can be stretched to absurdity

It’s time for some critical justice thinking.

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