January 24, 2022

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Rittenhouse, Arbery trials highlight racial bias in criminal justice – INSIDER

4 min read
  • Three men were convicted for the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery on Wednesday.
  • The verdicts were the latest in a series of criminal cases that the nation watched for weeks.
  • Critics say the Arbery and Rittenhouse trials, and Julius Jones commutation speak to larger issues. 

The nation has watched as the news has centered white vigilantism and Black executions in the past week, continuing an ongoing conversation of racial injustice in the country.

Uprisings over the past few years in response to the killings of Black people — Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and so many others — were “directly related to state-sanctioned violence and police brutality,” Nakisha Lewis, a racial and social justice activist, told Insider.

More recently though, the trial for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the trial for the Kenosha shootings by Kyle Rittenhouse, and the commutation for former death row inmate Julius Jones have been at the forefront of news.

Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old Black man, was chased, shot, and then killed as he ran through a neighborhood in Southern Georgia in 2020, causing nationwide outrage. 

Three white men — Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William ‘Roddie’ Bryan — were found guilty of murder. 

Travis, who fired the shot that killed Arbery, was found guilty on all nine counts he faced. Gregory was found guilty of eight of the nine counts, and Bryan was found guilty of six.

The three men also face federal hate crime charges.

“The verdict in this case demonstrates that justice is possible, but Black victims still must find nearly perfect circumstances — an aggressive, outside prosecutor; video documentation; and a local and national pressure campaign — just to get a white-on-black murder case to trial and win a conviction,” Keith Boykin, author of “Race Against Time” told Insider in an emailed statement.

Unlike the jury in the Arbery trial, the jury in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial found him not guilty.

On Friday, Rittenhouse, who fatally shot two men and injured one more at a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest for Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was acquitted on all five charges he faced. The jury cited self-defense.

“The system of justice works if I look like Kyle Rittenhouse. It does not work if I look like Jacob Blake,” said Jacob Blake Sr., the father of Jacob Blake who police officers shot seven times and left paralyzed, to Amy Goodman on  “Democracy Now.” 

None of the three men that Rittenhouse shot were Black, but critics say his acquittal is still evocative of a larger issue: racial injustice.

“It’s part of sending a signal about what whiteness is, and it requires whiteness to stay in its place,” historian Carol Anderson, told the Center for Public Integrity. “And if you don’t stay in your place, there are consequences.”

The system of justice works if I look like Kyle Rittenhouse. It does not work if I look like Jacob Blake. Jacob Blake Sr.


Paul Henderson, BNC Legal Contributor, cited “the privilege of white men to drift back and forth between vigilantism on behalf of law enforcement and self-defense on behalf of their own beliefs and fears” on a BNC News episode comparing the Julius Jones commutation to the Kyle Rittenhouse and Ahmaud Arbery trials Friday.

And while Kyle Rittenhouse and Travis McMichael are regarded by critics as cases of vigilantism, Julius Jones’ life sentence is another reminder to advocates of reform of the injustices in the legal system.

The day before Rittenhouse walked away without charges, Julius Jones, a man who has been on Oklahoma death row since 2002 for the 1999 killing of Paul Howell, narrowly escaped execution.

Jones and his family say that he didn’t commit the crime. Others, including the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board and the Innocence Project — also doubt the evidence that led to his conviction.

Governor Kevin Stitt announced an executive order just hours before Jones’ scheduled execution. That last-minute commutation came despite a docuseries, calls to justice by organizers and activists nationwide, numerous meeting and outreach attempts from Jones’ family, and a recommendation from the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to grant the man clemency.

“I’m an abolitionist though,” Marc Lamont Hill said during BNC’s “Amplified with Aisha Mills” on Wednesday. “I don’t believe in a world where prisons and police are our primary mechanisms to address harm.”

“I’m happy that we didn’t have our hearts broken again, but I don’t want us to ever confuse what happened [with the Ahmaud Arbery trial] as justice.”

Citing the Rittenhouse acquittal, the Ahmaud Arbery case, and the Julius Jones commutation, attorney and activist Angelo Pinto told Hill on BNC that he doesn’t think “the amount of effort” done by activists and communities to “get one guilty verdict” bring racial justice to the forefront is “sustainable.”

“We really can’t sustain the work at this rate,” he added. “I don’t think a case-by-case basis is going to get it done. I think most folks are sophisticated enough to think that we need real system change.”

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