Vigilante justice in America

How Kyle Rittenhouse’s crimes and Ahmaud Arbery murder are going to shape our country

The cases

On Aug. 25, 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse found himself in Kenosha, Wash. amidst a chaotic protest over the shooting of Jacob Blake.

By Aug. 26, he would turn himself in for the shootings in his hometown of Antioch, Ill. Because that night, while in Kenosha, Kyle killed two people and injured a third.

He stands accused of first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree recklessly endangering safety, first-degree intentional homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and finally, a now thrown out count of illegal possession of a dangerous weapon by persons under 18. 

Did he do it? Is he guilty of murder?

I would advise you to watch the videos and decide for yourself. 

Instead, I want to ask a different kind of question: Why was Kyle at a protest, armed with a deadly weapon, across state lines at 17 years-old? In his testimony, he claims that he was protecting a used car dealership and had brought medical supplies to provide aid. 

That answer doesn’t truly satisfy the question I asked. Why did Kyle feel he should go? 

Let’s turn our attention to Ahmaud Arbery. 

On Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020, at 1 p.m., Arbery was shot three times and died from his injuries while on a jog. The defendants Gregory McMichael, 65; his 35-year-old son, Travis McMichael; and their neighbor, William Bryan, 52, suspected Arbury to be a perpetrator of some burglaries in the area. 

In a video later released to the public, you can see McMichaels and Bryan “square in” a jogging Arbery who was promptly shot after passing their car, resulting in his death. In the video, you can hear two shots fired. 

No one was arrested for the murder until May 7 after the video became public that same month. 

The similarities in the cases

Despite their many intricacies, these two cases have one glaring similarity, the vigilante nature of their cases. Arbery was murdered over a crime he has not been proven guilty of. For him, it was not innocent until proven guilty; in the eyes of the McMichaels, it was guilty until proven innocent. 

Instead of allowing the police to investigate any leads, they took justice into their own hands. 

And unfortunately for Rittenhouse, his intention to protect property that did not belong to him cost two people their lives. Instead of allowing trained professionals to handle the crowds, he took it upon himself to carry out justice, to enforce order. 

The road to hell, at least for Rittenhouse, is paved with good intentions. 

And for both of these cases, I think there’s something worth pointing out. While a gun is just a tool, it is not a tool of peace. People don’t bring guns to de-escalate situations. You do not point a gun at someone without recognizing that there is a distinct possibility that you could be ending someone’s life. 

Whether the resulting death is an accident frankly doesn’t matter; your bullet caused their death. 

We are supposed to be advocates, to speak for those who do not have a voice. Not take it into our own hands. 

What’s even more disturbing to me is that people apply their idea of justice to others without a trial, due process and a jury of their peers. We are entering an era where truth is what we say it is. Where justice is what we say it is.

These concepts should live outside of the individual. Whether or not you believe that the sky is blue does not change that the sky is, in fact, blue. The same laws that apply to me, a white person, are the same laws that should apply to everyone else. 

I am not a police officer, I am not currently a judge or on a jury, so it’s not my place to make arrests, carry out sentencing on others or pass verdicts. But that’s precisely what Rittenhouse, the McMichaels and Bryan did. Regardless of what they set out to do, Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber and Ahmaud Arbery received the death sentence. 

Did Kyle Rittenhouse kill these people in self-defense? It’s a possibility, but Kyle, a minor, shouldn’t have ever gone to Kenosha. We have systems in place to deal with violence. The police and the National Guard are best equipped to handle these kinds of situations. Having armed, untrained citizens in the mix makes everything worse. 

Kyle Rittenhouse and his case have proved that.

On the other side of the same coin, we have the McMichaels. Instead of allowing the police to investigate the burglaries as they saw fit, the men took action in a complete miscarriage of justice. 

Georgian law states that, “A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.” The McMichaels murder of Arbery should not be protected under law. I can find nothing that Arbery has done wrong. 

His “crime” is checking out a house that is under construction. I am sure I have taken a peek at new homes being built on my block. He stole nothing from the site. So what exactly did he do wrong? Trespass? Should that cost him his life?

And yet, this law is the crux of the defense’s argument. 

Even more disturbing, it took three prosecutors looking at the case before someone found it worth pressing charges over. It’s likely that if the bodycam footage had never been leaked, Arbury’s family would never have received so much as an approximation of justice. 

What are the consequences?

The thing is, when the justice system isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do, then we amend it. When the constitution did not give women the right to vote, we amended it. We are supposed to be advocates, to speak for those who do not have a voice. Not take it into our own hands. 

But if Kyle Rittenhouse and Arbery’s killers are acquitted, what kind of precedent does that set for future crimes of this nature? Should private citizens be allowed to take justice into their own hands?

What if we take this same thought process and apply it in a different light. 

What if a blue state passes a law that bans all firearms within state lines? Should private citizens take guns away from their neighbors and report them if they know their neighbor to be in possession of one?

This conversation has also come up when talking about the Texas Abortion bill. What role should citizens have in carrying out the law? But that’s just it: the role of the citizen is on a jury in a courtroom, not part of a militia or being the neighborhood snitch. 

There have been plenty of times that I have disagreed with decisions that the court has made. The easiest one that comes to mind was the sentencing of Brock Turner. The punishment did not fit the weight and seriousness of his crime. 

But I can not control that, and the answer isn’t for me to murder him. Instead, I will raise my brothers to be respectful of women; I am going to teach them no means no. 

Instead, I am going to hold others accountable when I hear them perpetuating rape culture. I am going to try and use my platform as a way to advocate for others. When I see cases like these, I will talk about and bring awareness to the best I can. 

But causing more violence isn’t the solution, and it scares me to think that as a society, we are turning away from reform and instead encouraging each other to do as we see fit. 

And as we await their verdict on these high-level court cases, I hope we see reform made to protect citizens from each other. I hope we see communities come out stronger, having held one another accountable for their actions. 

Sometimes, change is messy, but change shouldn’t have to be at the expense of human life. If cars burn, if buildings are broken, that sucks. But buildings can be rebuilt and vehicles replaced. People can not be. 

Kyle has a damn good case for self-defense. He has training with police departments, first aid training and his dad lives in Kenosha. But DA James Kraus said, “It is not up for Mr. Rittenhouse to be the judge, the jury and eventually the executioner.” 

But that is what happened. 

In terms of the McMichaels and William Bryan, I have no words to describe their crime other than cold-blooded murder.

Regardless of the outcomes of their cases, they will be influential when we think of gun laws, self-defense laws and racial justice. 

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