Multi-racial justice groups condemn Rittenhouse verdicts; Trump, Fox cheer
An activist chants in front of City Hall in the Loop to protest the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, Saturday afternoon, Nov. 20, 2021, in Chicago. | Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

As a holiday season that is supposed to allow people to celebrate Black groups and supporters of justice nationwide condemned the nearly all-white jury’s acquittal of shooter Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse used his AR-15 to kill Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wound Gaige Grosskreutz last year during peaceful protests of the police shooting of an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake.

By contrast, former GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump, known for his endorsements of white supremacists, congratulated Rittenhouse, putting the words “not guilty” in caps on a tweet. He also endorsed a pro-gun group’s suggestion to gift Rittenhouse with another AR-15.

Such were the reactions, especially along political lines, to the jury’s Nov. 18 verdict, which came four days before closing arguments in yet another racially charged trial, that of two white men who gunned down unarmed black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Ga., in early 2020.

The two are closely tied to Georgian county’s criminal justice system. A third, who abetted and filmed it, is also on trial for murder. And Georgia’s GOP Attorney General filed charges against the Glynn County, Ga., district attorney for obstructing justice in Arbery’s killing, but that case has yet to be heard.

As in Kenosha, the jury in Glynn County is almost all-white in a county more than one-quarter Black—and a county where more than three-fifths of voters backed Trump in both of his presidential runs. Kenosha is 80% white and 11.5% Black.

Rittenhouse gunned down the three participants, killing two, during a march through Kenosha protesting a white cop’s prior shooting of Blake seven times in the back. Blake survived but is paralyzed from the waist down. The victims murdered by Rittenhouse were white.

The Kenosha jury acquitted Rittenhouse on multiple charges, including two counts of first-degree murder. The judge, who repeatedly ruled for the defense during the trial, threw out the charge of illegal possession of the weapon used by Rittenhouse beforehand.

The acquittals sparked a pair of smaller demonstrations in Kenosha on Nov. 21, as protesters of the verdict, with signs honoring the three victims, chanted “no justice, no peace.” The Rev. Jesse Jackson was scheduled to join them but decided not to do so, after participating in a Nov. 20 protest in Chicago.

“The verdict of not guilty is very revealing of the state of criminal justice in America,” Bishop Grant, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition National Field Director, said in a statement in Jackson’s stead. A small group of white nationalists countered the Kenosha marchers. Police kept the groups apart.

“We just witnessed a system built on white supremacy validate the terroristic acts of a white supremacist,” tweeted former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was ostracized from the NFL for taking a knee during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner to protest white cops’ shootings of unarmed Blacks.

Democratic President Joe Biden said he, like other Americans, was  “angry and concerned” about the verdicts, but also said we must “abide by” the jury system—a comment that drew flak from, among others, Black Lives Matter.

“Reminder: The system is working exactly as it is meant to. The system was always meant to protect and uphold white supremacy,” the group tweeted. Its formal statement expanded on that.

“We are not shocked. Today’s not-guilty verdict is expected when white supremacy lives and breathes within our institutions. It is a reminder of how our legal systems are deeply rooted in white supremacy,” it elaborated.

BLM labeled the whole judicial process “a setup from the beginning. The police, the judge, the court, mainstream media, and every single system involved all wrapped their arms around Kyle Rittenhouse from the very beginning—from even before the murders he committed.”

Though BLM did not elaborate on that point, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund did. Since the shootings, it noted, Rittenhouse posted white nationalist screeds on his social media accounts. He had also joined a protest, singing the group’s anthem, by the pro-Trump white nationalist Proud Boys.

The verdict for Rittenhouse “reminds us…this is a nation deeply rooted and still very committed to white supremacy, and we must continue to fight against it,” BLM continued in part. It compared the Rittenhouse sequence to the “same vigilante, state-sanctioned violence” of George Zimmerman in Florida eight years ago.

Rittenhouse and the Georgia murderers have all hidden behind the idea of self-defense. Rittenhouse crossed state lines with an illegal weapon and shot people at a peaceful demonstration. The murderers in Georgia hunted down an unarmed man until they were able to kill him. Laws allowing murderous vigilante justice disguised as “self-defense” actually originated pre-Civil War in the South when white people were encouraged to hunt down and even kill enslaved people trying to reach freedom.

The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund warned the Rittenhouse verdicts will embolden other white nationalist vigilantes, especially since legislatures have been loosening or repealing gun control laws nationwide.

“Rittenhouse’s actions before, after, and during that night in Kenosha, and the impunity afforded to his actions do not exist in isolation from the larger context of racism, lax gun laws, and the deep flaws in our criminal justice system that so powerfully shape public life in this country.

“Rittenhouse’s conduct must be understood within an environment in which armed militias and vigilantes are acting to silence protesters, and where state legislatures have advanced anti-protest bills in the aftermath of demonstrations calling for racial justice.

“While the actions of all parties during the trial will be scrutinized over time, the acquittal of Rittenhouse on all charges, and the lauding of him as a hero, by right-wing elected leaders and others will embolden would-be vigilantes who intimidate protestors demanding racial justice to believe that they can escape accountability for their violence.”

Republicans showed their white nationalist colors. Trump’s mouthpiece, Fox “News” host Tucker Carlson, interviewed Rittenhouse on the network’s morning talk show. And rabidly pro-Trumpite Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., suggested his colleagues should hire Rittenhouse as a congressional intern. Even Rittenhouse’s lawyer blew up at that, denouncing the GOP capitalization on the verdicts, The Independent reported.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

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