Surviving the Rittenhouse Verdict

22 November, 2021
Kyle Rit­ten­house in Kenosha (pho­to cour­tesy Chica­go Sun-Times).

TMR invites read­ers to respond to the major issues of our times, from cli­mate change to crim­i­nal jus­tice, human rights and lib­er­a­tion from all forms of oppres­sion. Sub­mit opin­ions to editor@themarkaz.org with “Read­er’s Respond” in the sub­ject line. 

 

C. Michael Johnson

 

Antic­i­pat­ing the out­come of the tri­al against Kenosha, WI shoot­er Kyle Rit­ten­house, who crossed state lines with an AR-15, mur­der­ing two and seri­ous­ly wound­ing a third per­son, I couldn’t sleep.

In the first place, I wor­ried about the chill­ing effect an inno­cent ver­dict would have on future protests and peo­ple who wished to exer­cise their First Amend­ment right to free­dom of assembly.

Now that the ver­dict has come down, I’d like to offer a dif­fer­ent response, as a Black man liv­ing in the U.S., and hope I can offer some perspective. 

Most of the Black peo­ple I talked to knew going in that the kid wouldn’t face jus­tice and as news of the final ver­dict start­ed to fil­ter through the var­i­ous media, there wasn’t even a sense of dis­ap­point­ment. The sys­tem did what it is sup­posed to do. 

I don’t think any­one who hasn’t lived a life on this side of the look­ing glass can under­stand exact­ly what we felt. 

There were a few very impor­tant details about this tri­al that raised red flags. The fact that the media couldn’t iden­ti­fy a “sym­pa­thet­ic black face” to grind into the ground told me a great deal. And I remem­ber a con­ver­sa­tion with a bud­dy when we heard the announce­ment that Nation­al Guard troops were being acti­vat­ed in antic­i­pa­tion of the ver­dict and a “spon­ta­neous upris­ing,” accord­ing to CNN. We laughed. Soci­ety, at large, still has no idea what makes shit go down. There’s a com­i­cal ele­ment to how out of touch author­i­ties are in the US. Who exact­ly did they expect to riot? Black peo­ple? Antifa? They have as much insight into those groups as we do with space aliens. There is no prepa­ra­tion pos­si­ble to com­bat a spon­ta­neous upris­ing. Hence the word “spon­ta­neous.” To think there is in itself is patent­ly ridiculous. 

Anoth­er thing that struck me about Rit­ten­house is how young he is in his White­ness. I don’t know if you recall the case of Brock Allen Turn­er, the Stan­ford fresh­man who got into trou­ble for sex­u­al assault. Orig­i­nal­ly, he was charged with two counts of rape and felony sex­u­al assault, but the rape charges were dropped and he got off with a slap on the wrist. Turn­er was well-con­nect­ed and wealthy. Oh, and White. The sys­tem couldn’t deprive him of his poten­tial. Counter that with Tamir Rice or Trayvon Martin…those kids were just grow­ing up to be thugs. The same is true of Michael Brown.

C. Michael John­son and daugh­ter, Los Ange­les (cour­tesy C. Michael Johnson).

There is no time for Black kids to be inno­cent. Espe­cial­ly Black boys. We are threats from birth. Anoth­er White kid slipped through the cracks of jus­tice just last week for rough­ly the same crime as the Stan­ford kid. The judges just couldn’t “snuff out” either’s poten­tial. White peo­ple val­ue White­ness above all else. This fact is why we’re not on the sec­ond term of a Hillary Clin­ton pres­i­den­cy. White­ness is cur­ren­cy in the US and as a cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety the poten­tial for return on cap­i­tal (in this case White­ness) is even more valu­able than White­ness itself.

Final­ly, there is a fact that I feel is total­ly over­looked by lib­er­als and pro­gres­sives as they try to come up with some expla­na­tion for why things are the way they are: there is no hope. 

Hope is a luxury. 

Where exact­ly is a Black per­son sup­posed to find hope? Take me for exam­ple. My par­ents are both med­ical pro­fes­sion­als. I had the best pos­si­ble child­hood. My broth­er and I enjoyed a priv­i­leged life. Our par­ents were extreme­ly sup­port­ive and allowed us both to flour­ish unin­hib­it­ed. I’m also high­ly edu­cat­ed and have nev­er been in trou­ble with the law. My pro­fes­sion has allowed me to trav­el the world and meet great peo­ple in the music and film industries. 

…And in the end, I’m just anoth­er nigger. 

Mon­ey and posi­tion don’t help. Unrec­og­nized, Oprah is just as like­ly to get kicked out of a restau­rant as a crack­head off the street. Edu­ca­tion doesn’t mean any­thing. Dr. Hen­ry Louis Gates can have his neigh­bors call the police on him for break­ing into his own house. There is no escape from the spec­tre of racism. 

Once again, there is no hope. 

I don’t say this to be dra­mat­ic or as a plea for sym­pa­thy. It’s just the truth. There’s no hope and for the most part, nev­er has been. But, Black peo­ple (in gen­er­al) don’t real­ly need hope to sur­vive. For us, hope is a luxury. 

I can’t tell you how many con­ver­sa­tions I’ve had in my life with oth­er Black peo­ple that end up in laugh­ter at the prospect of even our “Woke-ist” friends liv­ing a few weeks in our shoes. And we’re not stu­pid — we know there are plen­ty of sob sto­ries that detail how tough many Whites had it grow­ing up. Trau­ma and tragedy are col­or­blind. It’s not a bloody con­test. But, imag­ine all you sur­vived and think of all your heartache and hard­ship, albeit with­out hope. 

That’s what it is to be Black in the Unit­ed States. 

For every O.J. ver­dict, for every Black man who escapes the jaws of jus­tice, there are lit­er­al­ly thou­sands of Kyle Rittenhouses. 

We take our vic­to­ries where we can find them…right or not. 

That’s how we survive.