Trial of Ahmaud Arbery murder, Kyle Rittenhouse threw the spotlight on white vigilance – National

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The trials of Kyle Rittenhouse and three men accused of murder Ahmaud Arbery had very different results. But just a few days apart, they revealed a dangerous and protracted current in the fight for racial equality: the traits of some white Americans to take up arms and take their own stand against perceptions of lawlessness, especially by black people.

The two cases, which ended with an acquittal for Rittenhouse last week and convictions for Arbery’s killers on Wednesday, highlighted polarizing issues of gun and self-defense laws and racial injustice.

They also forced the questions: Who or what is protected? And from whom? Should peace of mind for white Americans come at the expense of the protection and security of black Americans?

“So much of this issue of protection and security is about the security and protection of white or white property,” said Carol Anderson, a historian and professor of African American studies at Emory University. “There is a hubris of whiteness. The feeling that it is up to me to put black lives back in their proper place.”

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Ahmaud Arbery’s verdict: 3 men were found guilty of murder

Arbery, a black man, was chased and shot to death by white men suspected of an outsider in their predominantly white neighborhood in Georgia. In Wisconsin, while both Rittenhouse and the three men he shot were white, the meeting was triggered by the 17-year-old’s decision to travel from his home in Illinois to Kenosha and arm himself with an AR-15 rifle, in an effort to protect local businesses from Black. Lives Matter protesters.

The unmistakable connection: The idea that white men who perceive a problem “should take a gun and wade into trouble and then assert self-defense,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law.

“This is a product of a weapons culture. It’s also a product of laws … that give white men with weapons the ability to create chaos and sometimes get away with it,” said Waldman, author of “The Second Amendment: A Biography. “

The two overlapping trials highlighted deep racial divisions within American society, especially after last year’s broad movement for racial justice swept across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s assassination.


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Ahmaud Arbery verdict: 3 men were found guilty of his murder


Ahmaud Arbery verdict: 3 men were found guilty of his murder

Both also came at the end of a year that began with an uprising at the American Capitol, where an overwhelming white crowd of supporters of former President Donald Trump, furious at the idea that the 2020 election was “stolen” from them, stormed building in an attempt to take ownership of the government.

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The driving force behind the looting of the Capitol, Anderson said, was the unfounded claim that there were huge numbers of voter frauds in cities where there were significant black populations, “the notion that black people voting is what stole the election.”

“It’s the thing about vigilance, it’s that something valuable to me, to me, to my society, is being stolen and it is being stolen by the unworthy, by the undeserved,” Anderson said.

White vigilantism means “the need to keep the black population, especially the black male population, under surveillance and control,” said author Darryl Pinckney. It has evolved over time, but there is a long history in the United States of people taking the law into their own hands – and white Americans using it as an excuse to violently maintain racial boundaries.

Pinckney pointed to secession laws and black codes, adopted after the Civil War, which aimed to control freed slaves. “Laws that say, ‘if you can not say where you live, you could be locked up and forced to work for the chain gang for a while.’ ‘During segregation, black people were told they were in the wrong place. During the days of integration, it was a question of why black people were in a certain place – a requirement for proof that they belonged to make white people “at ease”.

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Arbery’s death is reminiscent of the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, by a white Latin American man who patrols his Florida subdivision against suspected criminals. For many black Americans, that case served as a warning story that just being black could make them targets, said Angela Onwuachi-Willig, dean of Boston University School of Law.

For Willig, there was a direct line between the murder of Martin and the infamous lynching of Emmett Till 1955, a black teenager visiting the Mississippi from Chicago who was brutally killed by a pair of white vigilantes convinced that the 14-year-old had whistled at a white woman. And the Arbery case is another reminder of the lingering malice that can await black Americans who dare to enter areas considered white strongholds, she said.

Organized violence against blacks by ordinary white American citizens has a long history in the United States and was often committed with either explicit or tacit approval from the authorities, said Ashley Howard, associate professor of African American history at the University of Iowa. She pointed to slave patrols aimed at capturing suspected fugitive slaves and lynchings, where guards often stepped aside or gave keys to give bullies access to black suspects.

Arbery’s killer “worked under that kind of slave patrol code, which basically put all whites instead of having the power to ask anyone in black why you’re here? What are you doing here?” in Anderson.


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Protesters condemn innocent verdict in trial of Kyle Rittenhouse


Protesters condemn innocent verdict in trial of Kyle Rittenhouse

During the civil rights movement, police often turned a blind eye to white vigilantes who came to black communities to quell protests, Howard said. The violence was fueled by a false notion that black people were aggressive towards whites.

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“It’s this feeling that the world they know is being attacked,” Howard said of white vigilantes. “It is threatened and they literally have to pick up weapons and defend it against the wandering mob or whatever they are framed and understood.”

While Rittenhouse’s victims were three white men, race was also at the center of his fall, given that he decided to use weapons to defend property during a Black Lives Matter protest, and his victims were white men who stood up for equal treatment of black Americans. “Attacking the white allies of black liberation has always been part of history,” Pinckney said.

Elijah Lovejoy, a white abolitionist and newspaper editor, was shot dead by a slavery mob in Alton, Illinois, in 1837. His killer was found “innocent.”

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Acquittal from Rittenhouse shows a bias in the legal system, say black Americans

James Peck, a white activist in the civil rights movement, was considered a racist by the KKK, brutally beaten to a “bloody mass” during Freedom Rides, as civil rights activist John Lewis described it.

Viola Liuzzo, a white civil rights activist who participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965, was shot and killed by Ku Klux Klan members.

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In today’s context, after persistent appeals that “black lives are important” and many white people listening to the call to join the movement, one again arouses discomfort and fear of a loss of white identity or power, and some feel increasingly brave to deal with it.

“White identity has never been questioned to this degree or abandoned to this extent by other white people,” Pinckney said. “There is a real sense of betrayal, and that’s part of the fear – this loss of status or the devaluation of personal whiteness.”

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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