A tale of two trials
Both lay new basis for white vigilantes to use the 'slave-catcher' defense
In his classic work, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880, W.E.B. Du Bois discussed why poor whites didn’t make common cause with poor blacks and slaves but instead prized their roles as overseers and slave catchers. This fed their “vanity because it associated [them] with the masters.”
The new normal
The imminent verdicts in two current trials could reaffirm the right of armed white vigilantes to commit murder in the name of “self-defense.” This right dates back to the days of slavery when armed slave-catchers killed suspected runaway or rebellious slaves with impunity. This right has been affirmed in case after case involving white cops killing unarmed Black men and women and was reaffirmed 8 years ago in the trial of George Zimmerman, the armed neighborhood watch volunteer who was acquitted after profiling, tracking down, and killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
White right is being challenged in the trials of white supremacist Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Ahmaud Arbery’s three white killers in Glynn County, Georgia.
“The problem is that with a citizenry armed with guns, we have blurred every line,” writes Kimberly Kessler Ferzan, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, arguing in the Texas Law Review that a potent mix of “stand your ground” provisions and citizen’s arrest statutes have given people license not just to defend themselves but to go after others.
Rittenhouse told his nearly all-white jury that he went to Kenosha with a military assault weapon to “give first aid and help extinguish fires.” He ended up using the weapon to kill two men and wound a third at a protest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Rittenhouse did not find himself at the Kenosha protest by chance; he crossed state lines to attend. He illegally obtained an automatic weapon and brought it with him. He shot three people. While out on bail, he showed up at a bar in a T-shirt that said “Free as Fuck,” and took photos with members of the Proud Boys.
After his shooting spree, Rittenhouse actually tried to surrender to police who instead waved him through police lines and allowed him to drive back home to Antioch, IL.
A headline in the Tribune story reads
Kenosha cops explain why they ignored Kyle Rittenhouse’s attempt to surrender after shooting.
Their explanation explains nothing. It goes like this:
The [cops] didn’t think it was unusual to see someone walking around with an assault rifle strapped to their chest, given the chaos and violence that engulfed the downtown.
Yes, white supremacists walking around carrying assault rifles at demonstrations or state capitols is the new normal…
… and Judge Schroeder is the new Julius Hoffman
Judge Bruce Schroeder has made it clear which side he’s on in the Rittenhouse trial. He continually berates the prosecutor and in one incident asked the jury to applaud a defense witness. He’s also ruled that if he decides to declare a mistrial, there will be no retrial of Rittenhouse. The gunman simply walks free.
When Schroeder’s phone rings in the middle of the trial, it plays, "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood. That’s the unofficial theme song of the Trump rallies, typically playing whenever he takes the stage.
Legal expert, Ron Filipkowski says he’s never seen a judge act like this in a criminal trial.
I have been a criminal law attorney for 27 years. I was both a federal and state prosecutor and defense attorney. In all my years of practice, I have never seen a trial judge during a trial put the jury in a position where they would have to applaud a defense witness right before they are about to take the stand and testify…This incident has followed a series of rulings and admonishments against the prosecution that has created the impression on many in the public that the judge is biased toward the defense for political reasons.
I have seen such a judge. It was back in 1969 and that judge was Julius Hoffman in the infamous Chicago 7 trial. Hoffman appears to be Schroeder’s role model.
As expected, the Rittenhouse case has become a cause célèbre for Trump’s MAGAs, the NRA, and white supremacist militia groups across the country. I didn’t expect a white liberal columnist like the Sun-Times’ Mark Brown to call for acquittal even before the trial is concluded. According to Brown, Rittenhouse is guilty of nothing more than “reckless foolishness.”
Brown says he knows this because he’s watched a lot of the trial on TV.
I saw Rittenhouse crying on the witness stand. I wasn’t sympathetic, but I found it genuine. I’m sure Rittenhouse feels very badly — for himself. Even though I think an acquittal would be a proper verdict, I’d still come away from the Rittenhouse trial believing that to be an unjust result.
Putting Ahmaud Arbery on trial.
In Georgia, another nearly all-white jury will decide in the next few days whether three white men, Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael, and William Bryan, who acted as vigilantes, could claim “self-defense” after profiling, hunting down, and shooting Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black 25-year-old jogger.
The first shocking thing about the case is the resistance there was to a trial even taking place. One of the first prosecutors assigned to the case initially recommended not charging the men involved, saying their pursuit of Arbery was “perfectly legal” because of a slavery-era law that gave private citizens the power to arrest people if they thought a crime was being committed.
Preposterous, yes. But it’s not without cause to think that a nearly all-white jury in southern GA might buy into the slave-catcher scenario.
The white judge noted that there appeared to be “intentional discrimination” in the selection of the predominantly white jury, but allowed the trial to continue anyway.
In both trials, there’s been an attempt to criminalize the victims instead of their killers. AP is still calling it the “Arbery trial.”
Arwa Mahdawi writes in the Guardian:
Not only does the defense seem to have an issue with Black jurors, it has also made clear it has an issue with Black pastors. A day after the Rev. Al Sharpton sat in the back of the courtroom, defense attorney Kevin Gough told the judge: “We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here.” Gough was worried they could be “intimidating” for the predominantly white jury.
Rev. Jesse Jackson responded from Chicago:
“They use their strength to eliminate jurors based upon race as far as sending them to the disqualified rank. I will not dignify his position. I’ll be in court next week,” Jackson said.
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