Biden appeals for calm as riots follow U.S. court verdict

November 20, 2021 - 18:42

TEHRAN - Violent civil unrest has gripped the United States again after a court acquitted a 19-year-old white man of all charges after he shot dead two people and injured another during demonstrations against racial injustice in America. The trial has raised more questions about the fate of the suspect if he had been a black American instead of white.

In Portland, Oregon frustrated protesters have broken windows and thrown projectiles at police in reaction to the court’s verdict. Portland sheriffs have declared a “riot” after what they said was “violent, destructive behavior by a significant part of the crowd.” Such is the anger of the demonstrations; reports emerged the protesters had planned to burn down the city’s Justice Center. Police say the gate to the Justice Center has been damaged. 

Just hours after the court’s decision was announced, police across various states began working on plans to contain potential violence with some Police Bureau Chiefs saying it was “reasonable to expect there will be some type of reaction to the verdict.” 

Protests also took place in other U.S. cities, including New York as Kyle Rittenhouse was cleared of all charges in connection with an incident in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year when anti-racism protests spread across the United States following the public execution of Black American George Floyd by the police. 

Amnesty International warned the verdict will likely lead to more violence.

Rittenhouse, a member of an armed white militia, killed two anti-racism protesters after shooting them with an assault rifle as he was patrolling the streets, staying out after a curfew with the approval of police officers on duty at the time, who infamously handed out water to groups of armed civilian men who are part of militia groups. 

The court found Rittenhouse not guilty for intentional homicide, reckless homicide, attempted intentional homicide among other counts. The judge even cleared Rittenhouse of a charge that he was a minor (aged 17 at the time of the shooting) in possession of a dangerous firearm. The courtroom claims he acted in self-defense but there was no accountability for even manslaughter which means the victims who lost their lives and their loved ones will not see any justice. 

For many, Rittenhouse’s case will be seen as further evidence of favorable treatment by police of white Americans in comparison to Black Americans. A young white armed militia supporter essentially got the best treatment from the police and judicial system, the complete opposite of the attitude the police and judicial system offer black Americans and anti-racism protesters who support the struggle and suffering of black Americans.

President Biden has appealed for calm but anger is boiling on the streets of America and among various anti-racism groups, activists and gun control advocacy organizations. 

Following the verdict, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took to social media and issued this statement “the verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse case is a travesty and fails to deliver justice on behalf of those who lost their lives as they peacefully assembled to protest against police brutality and violence.” 

Bernice King, a minister and the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr, said “justice is not just about verdicts. It is a continuum. We can galvanize around changing our culture, including challenging the difference in how a Black male teen would have been engaged in Kenosha.”

Missouri representative Cori Bush slammed the verdict saying she was “hurt,” “angry,” and “heartbroken.” She wrote “It’s white supremacy in action. This system isn’t built to hold white supremacists accountable. It’s why Black and brown folks are brutalized and put in cages while white supremacist murderers walk free.” 

Strong condemnation of the court’s outcome also came from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who noted this verdict is not limited to just one case saying “what we are witnessing is a system functioning as designed and protecting those it was designed for. My heart still breaks for the communities and families whose grief now compounds, and the countless others who will be denied and deprived in similar scenes across the country.” 

Research shows institutionalized racism has its ugly face in many American societies. While the murder of George Floyd by police (which happened to be filmed on a mobile phone) gave birth to the latest anti-police brutality and racism in America movement. The protests on the day Rittenhouse shot at demonstrators were in response to the police shooting of another black American by the name of Jacob Blake. 

When you draw some comparisons, it highlights disturbing facts on racial discrimination by American law enforcement. 

The police officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back was not charged with a crime. Unfortunately, there is a racist perception in the U.S. that black people pose a threat because of the color of their skin. For instance, Blake shot seven times in the back was not even a case of self-defense; while police from the same department who killed Blake allowed a 17-year-old Rittenhouse to walk back and forth alongside them carrying a dangerous firearm at a time of angry protests. 

So the question is did police not sense a threat or danger to the public by Rittenhouse? The chief executive and President of NAACP Derrick Johnson says it’s a “reminder of the treacherous role that white supremacy and privilege play within our justice system.” While the prominent civil rights campaigner, reverend Al Sharpton says “These continue to be dark days for Black people killed at the hands of people that believe our lives do not matter. [The men killed and wounded by Rittenhouse were white, but the shootings came amid protests following the police shooting of Jacob Blake and murder of George Floyd.] This verdict was not only outrageous and dangerous, it was also an obvious signal that encourages and notifies ‘vigilantes’ that they can continue to use violence to assert their power, and more importantly that they are above the criminal justice system when they do.”

Another prominent civil rights lawyer Ben Crump (who has represented many Black Americans gunned down at the hands of police brutality) also weighed in saying “The Rittenhouse case has pulled back the curtain on profound cracks in our justice system - from deep bias routinely and unabashedly displayed by the judge to the apathy of officers who witnessed Rittenhouse’s actions and did nothing.”

Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan chipped in by denouncing the judiciary “our justice system is broken. It protects white supremacy. The two people who were killed deserved justice and so did our communities who continue be targeted with violence like this.”

This is while former President Donald Trump, who is accused of stirring up racism in America praised the court’s verdict even going as far as congratulating Rittenhouse. 

Observers have repeatedly said America always had a culture of racism, with tens of millions of people sharing racist sentiments and a fascist ideology. Trump of course was certainly not the one who started this ideology; black Americans died at hands of the police and white extremists before and after Trump came and left power. 

However, what the ex-American President did do successfully was tap into that ideology, which a vast number of Americans still share for political reasons; his rhetoric made it acceptable for the public to express that sentiment more publicly than it had been before Trump entered office. Before he came to power that anti-black ideology was not displayed so much in public for a short while but it never disappeared. Another point worth mentioning is Trump makes very little these public statements these days, why did he offer his thoughts on the Rittenhouse case? To mobilize his supporters for the next Presidential election maybe? 

But perhaps the Black Lives Matter movement summed the state of affairs in the United States (following the court verdict) most accurately by simply stating “disappointed but not surprised. This is not justice. This is not accountability. However, this is America.”