Thursday January 20, 2022

Guns and racism

December 02, 2021

Justice and accountability has prevailed in a fractured land with a long, tortured history of racism and too much fondness for guns. Disaster can strike when you put the two together.

A nearly all-White jury in Georgia convicted three White men of murder last week in the leaked videotaped chase and shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, 25, an unarmed Black man jogging through a mostly White suburban Brunswick neighborhood on Feb 23, 2020.

The men claimed self-defense. If there had been no video, there probably never would have been a trial. It took 74 days before arrests were made, with the video reportedly in police hands.

“Let the word go forth all over the world that a jury of 11 Whites and one Black, in the Deep South, stood up in the courtroom and said that Black lives matter,” the Rev Al Sharpton, told a news conference after the verdict. “Brunswick, Georgia will go down in history as the place where criminal justice took place,” he said.

Kyle Rittenhouse, 18, also used self-defense in the shooting deaths of two men and the wounding of a third, all White, during a Black Lives Matter protest of the killing of Jacob Blake, a Black man. The jury in Kenosha, Wis, acquitted the young man. That led to concerns among Arbery’s family and friends that the same thing would happen to the three men. It didn’t.

“It happens too often that they get away with it,” Micaiah Stewart, 18, who is Black, told The New York Times. “It’s good to see racism lose,” Warren Stewart Jr, a Black clergyman from Phoenix and Micaiah’s father, told the Times. Hawk Newsome, the cofounder of Black Lives Matter Greater New York, compared the verdict in Arbery’s trial with that of Rittenhouse’s, telling the paper they together sent a “mixed message”.

“You can’t outright chase down and murder Black people and those who support them,” he said. “But if you make it look like self-defense, you got a shot.” The aftermath of the two verdicts reflected the stark divisions in the country, enshrined by the clear differences between the two major political parties, one mostly liberal and ethnically diverse, the other mostly conservative and White; they’re at each other’s throats.

The Rev Lenny Duncan, 43, a Black pastor in Portland, Ore, contrasted the differences between the two verdicts in a comment to the Times about the impact they had on him: “The Kyle Rittenhouse verdict is the America I expect – the Arbery verdict is the America I fight for.”

Liberals cheered the results of the Georgia verdict. Conservatives literally embraced Rittenhouse as a hero, praised by Tucker Carlson as a “sweet kid” during a Fox News interview. “Imagine putting that kid in jail,” he said. Two different verdicts, two different reactions to them, two different types of long-barrel guns, two different Americas. But remove the guns, and there wouldn’t have been deaths.

Excerpted: 'Guns and Racism in America'.