No verdict on 2nd day of Rittenhouse deliberations
Kyle Rittenhouse’s attorneys have asked the judge to declare a mistrial, saying the defense received an inferior copy of a key video from prosecutors. The jury deliberated a second day without reaching a verdict. (Nov. 18)
In 2020, on a warm July 4, my friend Clotaire and I walked into the National Cemetery at Gettysburg National Military Park. A crowd of maybe 100 hundred agitated and armed White people milled about. Clotaire and I were the only Black people there.
Within minutes, a 50-ish White man started tutoring us about the problems of Black people and how to solve them.
“Cities were burning,” he said.
“What cities?” I asked. “Seattle,” he said. “All of Seattle?” I asked.
“A block in Seattle” he said.
An audience gathered around us. Our tutor instructed us that “Blacks” should talk more publicly about our problems in order to solve those problems. I asked him if White people should do likewise.
“No! We don’t have any problems,” he said. We walked away.
Our would-be tutor and the other White people in the cemetery had come in response to a perceived threat to their way of life. An obviously phony Facebook post declared somebody might come to Gettysburg to burn suburbs and attack Confederate monuments. When some White people, particularly some White men, feel that their place in America is threatened, reacting with violence often gets painted as reasonable and just, no matter whether the threat is valid.
This pattern continues to unfold in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. A few weeks ago, Judge Bruce Schroeder ruled that Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, the men Rittenhouse killed, could not be called victims in court. They could be called “rioters” and “arsonists” and “looters” if any evidence suggested any one of them may have been involved in such actions.
There is some legal rationality in Schroeder’s decision. Our legal system presumes innocence. Because Rittenhouse has claimed self-defense, one could argue it should not be presumed that the men he killed and wounded were victims — maybe they were attackers. Calling them victims could bias the jury.
Victim, Schoeder said, “is a loaded, loaded word.”
But apparently the words “arsonist” “looters” and “rioters” were not.
Of course, the judge could have let the prosecution call them victims, and the defense call them attackers, and let the jury of supposedly reasonable citizens figure it out.
Legal scholars have long known how law wants to narrow legal disputes. Law doesn’t want a myriad of complex political, cultural, or economic narratives to enter the courtroom. There are some good reasons for that.
Kyle Rittenhouse a hero?: No, he was a callow, foolish boy who had no business being in Kenosha
Mistrial?: Will there be a mistrial in the Kyle Rittenhouse case? Here’s what it would mean
But, as scholars know, some narratives have an important and relevant history — like how certain words are freighted with heavy racial baggage.
In protests connected with Black and Brown issues, African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans have, from the colonial era up through last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, been cast as looters, rioters, arsonists and many other terms that connote a threat to social order.
Even when a protest does result in property damage, the causes of protests often get minimized or ignored — for instance, in the protests after the killing of Freddie Grey in Baltimore. When a single event like Grey’s death pushes Black and Brown people who have been systematically and intentionally disadvantaged by decades of police overreach and violence, by grossly unequal access to housing, hospitals and good schools, the protestors get reduced to being only arsonists, rioters and looters.
The Rittenhouse trial is not disconnected from that pattern or history, especially when critics of BLM protests consistently cast Black people and their allies as arsonists, rioters and looters despite solid evidence showing well more than 90% experienced no violence. When Schroeder permits the defense to use the exact same terminology that has been applied to Black people and their allies, he is most definitely letting a deep, pervasive history of racialized political, cultural, economic narratives enter the courtroom.
For many White Americans, Rittenhouse, crying on the stand, has become a sympathetic figure, a victim. And this despite the fact that he chose to run to violence, and to run to it heavily armed. Like the White people who ran to Gettysburg on July 4 2020, Rittenhouse’s advocates think their way of life is at great risk.
While there are distinct differences, their manufacturing of a threat to their way of life, and then justifying their response with violence, has echoes in the reactions of many White Americans, both in the North and the South, to Black Freedom Movements before and after the Civil War, throughout Jim Crow, and during and after the Civil Rights Movement.
I’m not convinced that for Rittenhouse’s advocates, or any of the White people who drove away from Gettysburg on July 4 last year in their $25,000 Harleys and $40,000 pickup trucks, their way of life is at risk in any manner that comes close to justifying the killing of two men at a protest in support of the lives of Black and Brown people. Even if it was one of the very few protests that damaged property. Cities aren’t burning. But American ideals might be.
Scott Hancock is an associate professor of history and Africana studies at Gettysburg College, studies the African American experience from the mid-17th century to just before the Civil War.
Credit: Source link