Saturday, November 20, 2021

Courtroom Crookery

Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty in a court of law on Friday. Not innocent, to be sure, but that a jury was unable to convict him of the crimes he committed. Observing the prosecution and defense arguments, this isn't a terribly surprising outcome. What showed up in court was not the best prosecution that could have been mounted, and the defense was skilled at doing what the defense is legally permitted to do. As disgusting as it sounds, in the American legal system, defendants of a crime have the right to denigrate crime victims, destroy their image and reputations in a way that prosecutors do not have the ability to do so. Kyle Rittenhouse’s attorneys took advantage of this toward his less than perfect victims, but this kind of trickery shows up not only in cases of violent crime like Rittenhouse's, but most frequently in crimes of sexual violence and assault. Jon Krakauer's book Missoula has good commentary on this if you are interested. A system of justice that requires proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt stacks the books against conviction if you hire a skilled attorney to defend you, particularly when much of case against you is based on establishing intent, and relying on human testimony. Its why only 10% of sexual crimes are ever prosecuted and convicted. It is why when you have money, you are more likely to receive a verdict of "not guilty." It also helps if you are white and have a baby face so people have a hard time believing you are or could be violent or aggressive, a condition that never exists for young, black men.

All of this is important when we consider another really important case currently under prosecution.
Greg McMichael, William "Roddie" Bryan, Travis McMichael saw Ahmaud Aubrey running down their street, decided that he must be responsible for the recent burglaries in their area, jumped in their trucks, chased him down on the street, and caught him. When they caught him, these three men in two trucks pointed loaded guns at him, and one of them shot Ahmaud twice, killing him. These are the facts of the case, and were captured on video, as I've posted on before

This "should" be an open and shut case - except it is  not. The defense, in part because their argument is incredibly weak, is pulling out as many stops as they can get away with to get these men off. They have tried to bar "black pastors" from the Courtroom. They tried to have a mistrial declared with no possibility of retrial when Ahmaud's mom started crying in court when grisly photos of her shot son were introduced as evidence. The defense attorney has stated to the media that his clients are undergoing a "public lynching," which is especially rich given the racist tones of this incident (three armed white men chasing down an unarmed black runner, one of whom has a Confederate flag sticker on the back of his truck visible in the video, to name just a few of the obvious examples). Finally, the defense argued that these three white men were threatened by Ahmaud, and were defending themselves. They focused on the portion of the video where Ahmaud, after being chased down while running on foot by three men in pickup trucks carrying guns, appears to try to grab the gun away from Travis McMichael.

Respectfully, and regardless of the forthcoming jury verdict:


Yesterday, I ran through a community that I'm a stranger to. Eric and I were in Kansas and we stopped because he had to lead a Zoom call for work. I took advantage of us being stopped and went for a 7 mile run. I looked at homes on my route. I stopped and took a couple of photos. Not once were my motives questions. No one approached me to demand to know what I was doing, even in this small town where it should have been obvious I wasn't "from there." 

I could run in this community because I'm a white woman, and no one sees me as a threat because of the color of my skin. 

I'm also cognizant of the risks I face when I run, because I'm a woman. I typically run with bear spray, knowing I am more likely to use it on a man than I ever am a wild animal. Yet not once in the hundreds of times I have palmed that canister before heading out of a run have I been concerned that I might be attacked not as a precursor to sexual violence but for existing somewhere someone else believes I shouldn't. 

My work prepares its staff for the possibility of workplace violence. We engage in an annual training that teaches us to "run, hide, fight." However effective that training actually is, it is drilled in my head to run if I can, hide if I can, and fight as a last resort to save my life. I think about that when I think about Ahmaud's case. If I were him, I would do exactly what he did. I would run away from strange men (who admitted that though they have said they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest, they never told Ahmaud that) chasing me in trucks with guns. I would run as fast as I could. I would zig zag to try to get them off track and in the hopes that if they started shooting, I would be harder to hit. I would look for ways to get away and hide, but I'd realize I couldn't. When they overtook me and came out of their car with a shotgun, I would do what I could to get the muzzle of that gun away from my head and body. It would be my last, panicked resort. 

And when I was shot twice, and bled out on the ground and died from the catastrophic wounds, you bet my mother would cry when she saw the photos of my mangled body in court. 

The trial of my murderers would have been different. No one would believe a white woman runner in a neighborhood posed any threat, even if I went at the gun. No one would try to declare a mistrial when my mother sobbed. No one would be looking into my past to see where I might have gone wrong, what misdemeanors I might have engaged in in my youth or what drugs I might have tried at some point. 

The trial for my murder would have never happened. My murderers would have looked at the evidence and pled guilty. Whether or not the plea sentence would have fit the crime would be another story, especially since we know that plea deals in cases where women are the victims of violence are often exceedingly short, but that's another argument for another day. The point here is that the defense is only able to mount a defense and have anyone consider it because the murder victim was a black man. 

I am not Ahmaud. But Ahmaud should get the same shot at justice as I would have.

Ahmaud should have had the same kind of grace and assumptions extended to him as I get running through someone else's neighborhood. 

Neither one of us should have ever ended up on the street in Satilla Shores, Georgia or Russell, Kanses, bleeding to death for having the audacity to exercise. One of us did, and one of us didn't, and I'm not sure I will ever get over that. 

I run with Maud.

Justice for Maud.

Time's up for racists. 

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