Sunday, November 21, 2021

Sunday Reading

Must Be Nice — Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald.

They gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Kyle Rittenhouse armed himself with a war weapon and went into an uprising to protect property he didn’t own in a place he didn’t live. He shot and killed an unarmed man who he said threatened him and tried to take his gun. He shot and killed another man who, likely believing Rittenhouse an active shooter, came after him with a skateboard. And Rittenhouse wounded a third man, armed with a gun, who testified that he, too, thought he was dealing with a shooter.

On Friday, Rittenhouse faced a jury in Kenosha, Wisconsin, to learn his fate. Having taken an AR-15-type rifle into the midst of last year’s protests over the police shooting of an unarmed African-American man and having killed two people, the white 18-year-old was acquitted on all charges. He collapsed from sheer relief.

Who can blame him? Must be a wonderful thing to get the benefit of the doubt. Would’ve been nice if somebody had given that to Ahmaud Arbery. Or Tamir Rice. Or, God rest his soul, to Trayvon Martin. He should be a 26-year-old man you never heard of. But nine years ago, when he was 17 — the same age as Rittenhouse last summer — he made the mistake of being Black and crossing the path of a man named George Zimmerman, who decided on sight that he was up to no good, stalked him and shot him to death.

Benefit of the doubt? Trayvon certainly didn’t get that from Zimmerman. Nor from the police in Sanford, Florida. Nor from Geraldo Rivera, who suggested he was killed because he wore a hooded sweatshirt. Nor did he get it from white conservatives, who went to outlandish extremes to portray this kid, this standard-issue boy armed only with Skittles and iced tea, as some scary thug who needed shooting. Nor did he get it from the jury, which set Zimmerman free. Trayvon was essentially convicted of his own murder.

There will be those who don’t understand why race is invoked here. Rittenhouse, after all, was a white boy who shot three white men.

But those men lost whiteness the moment they joined that protest. No, that doesn’t mean they became dark of skin or curly of hair. What it does mean is that to be a white person who stands up for African-American lives is to place yourself in opposition to the great body of whiteness and privilege by which this country is driven.

It is to lose — at least for that moment — the protections afforded to you to by the fact of being white, the assumptions and presumptions that ease your path without you even knowing it. It is to lose benefit of the doubt.

Rittenhouse, on the other hand, was immersed in it. Judge Bruce Schroeder bent himself like Gumby to accommodate him, even ruling that the victims could not be referred to as victims. And while conservatives went out of their way to thuggify Trayvon, they made a folk hero of Rittenhouse. Tucker Carlson even lauded him as someone who “maintained order when no one else would.”

Did Carlson ever once defend Trayvon’s right to simply walk home unmolested? Somehow, it seems doubtful.

Did the judge ever bend like Gumby on Trayvon’s behalf? No example immediately suggests itself.

The killing of one teenage boy and the acquittal of another reflect back to us something ugly and small and mean and true about this country. Namely that some tears matter and some don’t. Some get advantages and some won’t. And yes, some of us get the benefit.

But others get only the doubt.

Doonesbury — The garden spot of the galaxy.


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