Miller: America Still America After Ahmaud Arbery, Kyle Rittenhouse Trials

By Rann Miller | Guest Blogger AC JosepH Media

I grew up during a time where course cases on television were must see TV.

I am not entirely sure if the trial of the four officers who beat up Rodney King was on television. I was only 8 at the time. But I remember clearly the O.J. Simpson trial on television. It was on all the major networks. I hadn’t seen anything like it on television to that point. Whatever was on the broadcast schedule from 12 p.m. EST (9 a.m. PST) to 5 p.m. EST (2 p.m. PST) was canceled… on the east coast, that meant no afternoon soap operas and no Oprah show… The O.J. Simpson Trial was all that and more. 

The crazy thing was that largely, America allowed this interruption. For me, forget Tom and Jerry, after school, I was watching O.J.

The most important thing I learned from watching that trial was the hypocrisy of how the criminal legal system treated Black people versus white people. That wasn’t the case in the O.J. trial, but because of the O.J. trial, it was a reality that my family and various members of the community attested to.

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At the ages of eleven and twelve, I hadn’t experienced nearly anything my parents, aunts, uncles or grandparents had experienced. They spoke their truths in a way to help me process what I was watching. I gathered that the rules were different for Black folks. Whether or not Simpson was guilty, the Los Angeles Police Department was guilty of racism; the same is true for other police departments, but I digress. Whether or not Simpson was guilty, racism found its way into the courtroom.

Simpson’s acquittal was less about him and more about a Black man, defended primarily by a Black man, that escaped the clutches of a racist legal system.

That lesson as a child, paired with the history I’d come to know as I grew older, informs how I view criminal trials where racism plays a role. That way of knowing prepares me for an outcome where what the social structure calls justice is not served. My cynicism was solidified with the acquittal of George Zimmerman; it prepared me for an acquittal of Derek Chauvin.

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It’s why I was mildly surprised the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery were convicted and yet unsurprised at Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal. I didn’t watch either of these trials.

Being angered by a bigoted judge and a defense attorney admonishing Black clergymen for supporting the Arbery family is not my idea of a good time. Nevertheless, we received two verdicts that make sense, at least to me.

In the case of Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers, Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William Bryan, their conviction makes sense; there was video evidence that showed the murder. Travis McMichael’s testimony did he and his co-defendants no favors, whereas Kyle Rittenhouse’s tears seemed to make a difference. It makes sense that Arbery’s murderers were would guilty.

However, in the case of Kyle Rittenhouse, there was little to no chance of a conviction for Rittenhouse.

The judge, guilty of telling a racist joke about Asian food, ruled that prosecutors could not referred to those shot by Rittenhouse as victims while allowing the defense to refer to the victims as looters and rioters. He also allowed Rittenhouse to choose the jurors to deliberate whether or not he was guilty or innocent. An argument can be made that the prosecutors botched this case, but with Rittenhouse a darling of the conservative right, and a judge who is likely a Trump supporter, anyone could forecast where this was going.

But to really have to understand the outcomes of these trials, you must understand the history of the United States. Black people have been murdered at the hands of white people for simply being Black, and have gotten away with it, dating back to 1619. However, in 2021, we have video footage of such crimes and it’s been proven that video is no guarantee of a conviction white murderers of Black people, let alone an indictment.

Thankfully, it helped in the case of Ahmaud Arbery but did it help Michael Brown or Sandra Bland or Rodney King

What is also true is that white people, historically, have never been above killing other white people who is stood up for Black people; see the murders of Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner with James Chaney

With damning video footage, although no silver bullet for securing “justice” for Black people, it would be hard for a jury to not convict Greg and Travis McMichael and William Bryan. The facts mattered there. Not so much in the Kyle Rittenhouse case.

That Rittenhouse murdered a person, that he had no legitimate reason to come from another state with an assault weapon to help restore order, and that the cops allowed his presence didn’t matter. Those facts didn’t matter as much the painting of Rittenhouse a child scared for his country and in fear of his life or painting a demonstration turned chaotic.

But again, consider history.

A case like Ahmaud Arbery’s murder in the state of Georgia, traditionally, would end in a white jury finding these white men innocent. However, we live in a post-Chauvin guilty verdict world. That jury was compelled to find the defendants guilty.

Kyle Rittenhouse portrayed himself on the night in question as a member of the militia who traveled to defend white property rights. That sounds a lot like article 1, section 8 clause 15 of the Constitution; That loosely interpreted, any *cough* right-winged fanatic *cough* could believe that arming themselves to enter into a protest, in support of Black lives, to “quell dissent” would be defending the Constitution.

I am sure some would accuse me of making a gargantuan leap with that insinuation, however what is true that ours is a social structure where whiteness and white supremacy is defended and upheld — see Critical Race Theory.

It’s why anti-protest laws are now on the books in eight states, why laws are on the books to prevent the teaching of systemic racism and white supremacy in schools in 9 states and under consideration in 19 states, including New Jersey.

It’s why segregation continues to persist in housing and education, in addition to Black people dying disproportionately when compared to white people due to biases (and racism) in their medical care.

It’s why Kyle Rittenhouse got away with murder. 

So, my takeaway from these trials is that America is still America. Meaning, in a white supremacist social structure, there’ll always be casualties amongst white people (McMichael, McMichael and Bryan) to assure that the social structure and its defenders (Kyle Rittenhouse) persists.

No matter who is on trial, that’s something we must all remember.

Bio: Rann Miller directs the 21st Century Community Learning Center, a federally funded after-school program located in southern New Jersey. He spent years teaching in charter schools in Camden, New Jersey. He is the creator, writer, and editor of the Official Urban Education Mixtape Blog. Follow him on Twitter: @UrbanEdDJ

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