1 Acquittal, 3 Condemnations

In light of the absurdly permissive gun laws in the United States, last Friday’s acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, charged with killing two protesters in August 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, is more dismaying than surprising. The jurors were, after all — and this is the dismaying part — simply applying the law.

The fact that the young man came to Kenosha armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle from his home in the neighboring state of Illinois, with the undeniable intention of joining the white supremacist militias that were determined to take on the Black Lives Matter protesters, mattered little. The evidence that, during that night of riots, he killed two demonstrators, one of whom may have been enraged but was unarmed while the other carried … a skateboard, didn’t really matter either. In the end, it was enough for the jury that the defendant to claim he feared for his life at the time of the events, and enough to provide the jury with “reasonable doubt,” so it could entirely accept the self-defense argument, a recourse that Wisconsin’s judicial system makes particularly unassailable.

It’s a good thing that, in another high-profile case, the three white men from Brunswick, Georgia, were convicted Wednesday in the February 2020 shooting death of Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery. The murder was obviously too much like a lynching and hate crime for the three men not to be found guilty by an all-white jury*. Fox News won’t turn these three into heroes. And while this verdict comes as a relief in view of the systemic inequality African Americans face in the American justice system, it doesn’t make up for the alarming political fallout of Rittenhouse’s acquittal. Three condemnations don’t negate one acquittal.

The acquittal underscores the politicization of the justice system and the erosion of democracy in the United States. In essence, Rittenhouse’s acquittal condones vigilantism. “That a teenager can … shoot three people, killing two, without any criminal consequences is a denial of justice,” said Shannon Watts, of the group Moms Demand Action, reacting to the verdict. “This is also the America that the NRA created.” This is, more broadly, a judgment that, with legal and political issues merging together, is part of the process of legitimizing the far right and social and partisan violence that Donald Trump’s rise to power in 2016 accelerated. Democracy in retreat, indeed.

This is something which led David French, a contributor to The Atlantic magazine, to comment: “[O]ne of the symbols of the American hard right is the ‘patriot’ openly carrying an AR-15 or similar weapon.” Rittenhouse went one step further. “He’s the ‘patriot’ who didn’t just carry his rifle; he used it.”

As a result, Rittenhouse’s case has appallingly been used for its own purposes by a Republican Party that has fallen under Trump’s thumb. This young hothead, who testified that he wanted to have an AR-15 to “look cool” and someone whom Fox News is preparing a documentary about, has been turned into a hero by the far right, in a context where the call to arms against Joe Biden and “Democratic oppression“ is becoming increasingly explicit since the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Republican members of Congress such as Marjorie Taylor Greene (Georgia), Madison Cawthorn (North Carolina) and Paul Gosar (Arizona) have fueled those calls for political violence without their supposedly moderate colleagues taking issue.

It is worth pointing out that the AR-15 is a weapon developed during the Vietnam War. From United States foreign policy, based largely on military interventionism, to the militarization of police equipment in U.S. cities, the sacred aura around the AR-15 speaks to the extremes to which “gun culture” has driven American society. The result is that, fueled by the unhealthy political climate, gun sales of all types are breaking records in the United States. In 2020, Americans bought more than 23 million firearms, an increase of 63% over the previous year. In January 2021 alone, some 2.3 million firearms were sold, 80% more than in January 2020.

Quebec obviously does not share this culture, but it is suffering the consequences, as evidenced by the gun violence that, after Toronto, is on the rise in Montreal. Clearly the solution lies in the Trudeau government stepping up the fight against gun trafficking at the border and against the production of “ghost guns.” However, the antidote to this poison from the south will remain elusive until the United States finds a way — and the will — to address the scourge.

*Editor’s Note: The jury in the Ahmaud Arbery case was composed of 11 white jurors, and one Black juror.

About this publication

About Mireille Dedios 60 Articles
I’m an independent French translator based in the Boston area, certified by the American Translators Association (French into English). I honed my translating skills as part of the executive teams of various French and US companies, including State Street Corporation, where as a member of the Public Relations team, I tracked the news media globally and translated press releases into French. I enjoyed this work tremendously and continue to look for opportunities combining translation and news coverage, culture, history and international relations.

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