After reading about Kyle Rittenhouse’s verdict on Nov. 19, which acquitted Rittenhouse of all criminal charges in the killing of two people and injuring one at a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest in Kenosha, Wis., we witness that the fight for social justice continues.
Rittenhouse was found not guilty of five criminal charges: first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree attempted intentional homicide and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment. On Nov. 15, Judge Bruce Schroeder, the judge in the Rittenhouse case, tossed out a charge against Rittenhouse illegally possessing an AR-15-style rifle.
His charges were acquitted to self-defense, sparking controversy on gun control, racial injustice and vigilantism. Many argue that if Rittenhouse was Black, his charges would have not been acquitted, which provides reason to believe that the fear of Black people can absolve a white person of any crime.
Here’s one for example, in a similar case, Chrystul Kizer argues self-defense for killing her adult sexual abuser, setting his house on fire and stealing his car in 2018. Both cases were tried in Kenosha, both defendants were 17 at the time of their conviction and both argued self-defense. Kizer is currently awaiting trial.
As unsurprising as it is, this isn’t the first time we have seen how unfair the law can oftentimes not apply equally to everyone, particularly to people of color (POC), especially Black people. This won’t be the last time we see this disparity either.
Although the victims of the Rittenhouse shootings were white, the acquittal trial of Rittenhouse still raises issues of racial injustice because if Rittenhouse was Black, we would not be surprised to believe that he would be found guilty or not be able to have a fair, if at all, trial, in a society that has been built on systemic racism and implicit bias.
A 2016 paper found that Americans perceive Black men as larger, stronger and more threatening than white men the same size. In another study, it was found that Black girls, as young as five years old, are perceived as older and less innocent and more aggressive than white girls.
In an article, Michael Harriot explains how the idea of the “scary Black person” manifests itself in every segment of the U.S. criminal justice system and why Black people are perceived less than white people.
But this isn’t necessarily simply a critique of the U.S. judicial system, rather it’s acknowledging the fact that we continue to debate equity and equality of the human race. Though there is progress, POC are still marginalized, ironically in the judicial system too, and when convicted, are defending themselves in a system that has failed POC multiple times before.
Even in positive cases, real system reform is at the forefront of a promising change in racial justice. The three white men charged in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, were found guilty on multiple murder counts.
“The verdict in [the Ahmaud Arbery case] demonstrates that justice is possible, but Black victims still must find nearly perfect circumstances — an aggressive, outside prosecutor; video documentation; and a local and national pressure campaign — just to get a white-on-black murder case to trial and win a conviction,” Keith Boykin, author of “Race Against Time” told Insider in an emailed statement.
Knowing how long and difficult it is to change the system judicially, there are still ways we can continue to change the system from within. It’s not just about exercising your right to vote, it’s about acknowledging your implicit biases and working towards a more equal and equitable society.
Albion College has had a reputation for acknowledging such racial biases and discrimination through protesting when acts of discrimination occur on campus, but change is a constant effort and should not be limited to when there’s clear overt acts of discriminations.
Discriminations should be a crime in itself and is not just limited to overt racism, but extends to implicit biases as well. A topic that is not talked much is the position of being a bystander to racial bias and discrimination around us.
Being a bystander is usually associated with domestic violence, verbal abuse or toxic behaviors, but it also includes discrimination against another person, whether that is towards their race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality. Racial reform can be attainable by holding yourself and others accountable in our implicit and explicit biases.
This can be as simple as calling in your friends or peers accordingly when they are discriminating against others, even if it’s subconscious. An example for the Albion College community is to take advantage of your involvement on campus to hold each other accountable when certain marginalized communities are not included in decision-making.
However, I do not believe that POC and marginalized communities should be burdened to alleviate these issues, as they did not ask to be marginalized. This is not just a political fight, but a moral one too. Anyone should be able to live freely knowing that their race or their immigration status is not against them.
As the student body at Albion College continues to grow in diversity, whether that’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexuality, and as it continues to grow, conversations around diversity inclusion, equity and equality should be more pronounced than ever.
With each generation growing in the use of social media platforms, a repost is simply not enough for change; accountability is important when it comes to dealing with the long-term repercussions of systemic racism and implicit biases.
Silent diplomacy is not enough.