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Basslines and Protest Signs

Basslines and Protest Signs Part 88: Days in Court

L–R: Ahmaud Arbery // L–R: Jay-Z (photo: Dan Garcia) / Meek Mill (photo: Chris Sikich) / Alicia Keys (photo: Keith Hinkle)

It’s been a busy few weeks for the courts and we got some very contrasting results. The confusion many of us felt about Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal was followed by relief that the three men who killed Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty of murder and other charges.

Why did we feel relief? This should have been an open and shut case. These men chased down another man because they didn’t like that he was jogging in their neighborhood. They hunted him and they shot him, and the language they used confirms their motivation was racism. 

There should have been no doubt. Yet it took 74 days to arrest them and questions remain over whether they ever would have been arrested if not for the video evidence. It feels like the Georgia authorities wanted Travis McMichael, his father Greg, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan to get away with the murder. They did everything they could not to arrest them. Until they felt like they had no choice. Had it been three Black men shooting a white man, would it have taken 74 days? No damn way.

Writing for The Guardian, Akin Olla said, “Despite the trial’s outcome, the actual process of the case was steeped in various justifications of the killers’ actions, from the racially tinged fearmongering of the defense attorneys to the fact that the killers were arrested 74 days after Arbery’s murder. Justice cannot be served as long as the current system remains, and it seems unlikely that even this verdict will dissuade future vigilantes.”

If vigilantes needed any encouragement, they got it from the Rittenhouse verdict. The now-18 year old was acquitted of all charges — the jury decided that he acted in self defense despite his role in the danger that he found himself in. President Biden pointed out that we have to abide by the jury system — what choice do we have? 

But it left a nasty taste in the mouth. Not least because this case was also soaked in racism. Make no mistake, the fact that Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber, and Gaige Grosskreutz were white doesn’t change that. Had Rittenhouse been Black, and parading around the streets with a smile and a gun, he would have been treated very differently both on the night in question and in court. 

Let’s not forget the infamous pictures of Rittenhouse posing with extremist group the Proud Boys in a bar and flashing a “white pride” signal. Apparently that wasn’t considered relevant to the case by a judge who wouldn’t allow the deceased to be referred to as victims, despite the fact that every person of color who ever has their name mentioned in court, including victims like George Floyd, have their entire history explored.

Some on the right have pointed out that Rosenbaum served time for sex crimes against children. But even if you believe that the death penalty is justifiable in those situations, Rittenhouse didn’t know. And anyway, he doesn’t have any sort of judicial authority. The argument here appears to be that teenagers should be allowed to run around killing people, because they might accidentally kill a pedophile in the process. This is a bizarre way to think the justice system should work.

Add the fact that some of the more serious January 6 insurrectionists have started to get sent down, including the insane bison man, and a guy literally playing Judas on Broadway (you couldn’t make that up) and, again, the courts have been busy and the results mixed. We didn’t even get to Steve Bannon. We still have to see what happens there.

Back in May 2020, musicians Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Meek Mill, and Yo Gotti sent an open letter to Georgia state officials regarding the Arbery case that said, “As a society we can no longer pretend that the racial inequities, which exist in every facet of our lives, don’t invariably lead down the path to poverty, violence and death. To even think about breaking this cycle we need you to protect the process and preserve the fairness of the trial.”

“If anybody saw that horrifying video of his killing, it is heartbreaking, unbelievably unacceptable and inhumane. No human being should be murdered and not receive justice,” Alicia Keys said in a statement.

Meanwhile, regarding the Rittenhouse verdict, Sara Bareilles tweeted, “I weep for this country. For that boy taught hateful things. For the system that protects the wrong people. For weapons that spread like the virus they are, infecting, poisoning, killing. For the message this moment sends. No justice. None.”

Bette Midler tweeted, “Kyle Rittenhouse found not guilty tho we SAW HIM kill two. Fundamentally stupid, I predict he will go on to a big career on #Fox and #RadicalRightWing circles, which counts as a plus with them. A tragic, tragic day for decent, THINKING, feeling, ethical people everywhere.”

Melania Fiona wrote, “The writing was on the wall in BOLD letters about this trial from the beginning. I don’t think we are surprised… but we are definitely allowed to remain appalled at how the perpetuation of injustice is progressively thriving in Amerikkka.”

Ice-T just wrote “wow.” But honestly, were any of us massively surprised by any of this? It’s telling that it was more surprising when Arbery’s killers were found guilty than when Rittenhouse wasn’t. It shouldn’t be that way and it needs to change.

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