Surviving the Rittenhouse Verdict

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

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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. 


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