Justice in America; It’s Complicated – In America Race Colors How the System Views Crimeby Mildred Robertson November 29, 2021
According to civil rights leader Dr. William Barber, the outcome of two racially tinged trials in America with divergent outcomes is, well to say it simply, “complicated.” Barber was referring to the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict in Kenosha WI, and the Ahmaud Arbery trial in Georgia.
While a predominantly white jury with just one black seated in the Georgia case took hours to find guilty three white vigilantes who stalked and killed 25-year-old Arbery as he jogged down a public street; a white jury in Wisconsin found Kyle Rittenhouse innocent of injuring one and murdering 2 Black Lives Matter protestors. Rittenhouse claimed self-defense despite coming to the protest armed with an AR 15, loaded with 30 rounds of hollow-point bullets. The first man he shot was unarmed. He was then pursued by a man wielding his skateboard, and another who had a handgun. Rittenhouse shot and killed one of his pursuers and injured the other.
The Rittenhouse verdict, while disappointing, surprised no one. The same cannot be said of the Arbery trial where a jury consisting of one black and 11 white jurors took little time to come back with a precise verdict that spoke directly to the offenses of each of the three defendants on trial. While defense lawyers pandered to what they hoped would be a racist jury, the prosecutor laid out a roadmap of facts that led to a definitive guilty verdict for all three of the men charged.
One trial stood as an example of what jurisprudence in America should be, while the other held the systems glaring failures up to the light. One trial was based on facts and evidence, while the other was based on vigilante justice.
The judge in the Rittenhouse trial showed a bias toward the defendant from an initial pretrial motion to determine whether those slain on the streets of Kenosha could be referred to as victims; to the point where he sat with the defendant as the jury viewed presentations by the attorneys. Throughout the trial, the judge scolded, yelled at, and berated the prosecuting attorney, blocking any opportunity he took to humanize Rittenhouse’s victims or to show he was the aggressor.
In contrast, the Arbery trial judge showed no signs of bias for or against the defendants. But that trial did not occur without issues of prejudicial behavior by the justice system. First, it was months after he was shot down in the streets before Arbery’s attackers were even arrested. The first call the shooter made was to District Attorney Jackie Johnson; now indicted for her actions. She told him to go home and wash his hands. Arbery’s attackers were arrested after a video of the encounter was released to the public. Linda Dunikoski the prosecutor who so eloquently tried the case was brought in from Cobb County. She successfully prosecuted the case, demolishing the defendant’s attempt to establish self-defense. All three of Arbery’s assailants are expected to spend the rest of their lives in prison, and still face federal charges for his murder that could result in additional life sentences.
The sentencing in the Arbery case is appropriate to deter others who might take similar actions in the future. Furthermore, Georgia has changed its laws to make it clearer when it would be legal to make a citizen’s arrest. Arbery’s mother said she thought she would never see this day but could look at the empty seat around her Thanksgiving table knowing that her prayers have been answered and that Ahmaud can now rest in peace.
While Ahmaud may now be able to rest, we cannot. These two disparate outcomes show the imbalance in the American justice system. One should not be afforded justice based on the luck of the draw in a jury pool, defense lawyer or prosecutor, or judge. Until these disparities are addressed, volatile instances of racial violence will continue to occur around this nation. Until America admits the role race plays in our criminal justice system, the phrase “Liberty and Justice for All,” is just words.
In America race colors how the system views the crime; sometimes even determining that no crime was committed, as in the Rittenhouse case. You see, it’s complicated.