America and the world witnessed two disturbing videos in two different cities; Kenosha, Wisconsin and Brunswick, Georgia. Both videos stemmed from the shooting of unarmed Black men. In Kenosha, the video showed a white man killing two white men and the wounding of another white man while they were protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake, another unarmed black man. In Brunswick, the video showed three white men who “hunted down” a young unarmed Black man and killed him.
The two videos are linked to the racial divide in this country. The officer who shot Jacob Blake did not have charges brought against him by the Kenosha County District Attorney even though the world saw him shoot Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, in the back in front of his children. This dastardly act led to the protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin in which two white men were killed. They were killed because they were protesting the shooting of an unarmed Black man. The killer, a self-made vigilante, carrying an illegal assault rifle across state lines fatally shot two of the protesters and wounded another while the world watched in disbelief. Those killed were white sympathizers of a Black man being shot by a white police officer. They got killed because they were protesting the shooting of an unarmed Black man. The killer claimed self-defense and claimed that he was there to protect the businesses and the community. The jury bought that defense and acquitted the killer. How could this happen when the video showed a cold-blooded calculated killer?
In Brunswick, Georgia, the killing of Mr. Ahmaud Arbery was also caught on video taken by one of the persons charged with the murder. While the prosecuting attorney did not use race too much during the trial, the killing was steeped in race. The first District Attorney on the case decided to recuse herself because she knew and had worked with one of the defendants. The second District Attorney on the case refused to bring charges against the three white men who killed Mr. Arbery. After all, it was just another black man shot and killed by white men. This “song has been played” so many times in the deep south and there are countless others that are not known. All we know is that Black men were killed during Jim Crow and beyond, but the killers were never brought to justice. Well, this time the killing was caught on video! So, why was Black America still not sure that justice would prevail even though “the world saw exactly what they saw!” They were not sure because they had seen this scenario play out countless times throughout history and justice was denied.
So why did we witness a not guilty verdict in Kenosha and guilty verdicts in Brunswick? There are several theories that have surfaced. So, I might as well add mine. The different verdicts are rooted in location and demographics, the presiding judges, and the local temperaments.
Location and demographics: In Kenosha, Black people have no voice and no power. Kenosha has a white population of 79.29% and a Black population of 11.52%. Most of the Black people live at or below the poverty line. Currently, the congressional delegation representing Kenosha County is all white. The County Executive, Clerk of Courts, County Clerk, County Treasurer, District Attorney, Register of Deeds, and the Sheriff are all white. Brunswick has a white population of 40.3% and a Black population of 55.07%. Brunswick is in a state represented by a Black senator and a Jewish senator. The congressman representing the area is white. The County Sheriff, County Clerk, Tax Commissioner and the District Attorney are all white. However, the mayor and three city commissioners in Brunswick are Black. Also, there is one Black county commissioner. Embedded in the numbers of both cities tells what will or will not be tolerated in the respective communities by the Black community and the community at large.
The presiding judges: The presiding judge in Kenosha made himself part of the trial in a largerthan life manner. His words about the Bible, his phone, and his concern about technology made the proceeding more about him. His actions hampered the prosecutors because he prevented key items from surfacing during the trial. For example, he did not allow the prosecutors to refer to those killed as “victims” and he dropped the gun charges and did not allow the illegal gun and crossing state lines with an illegal gun charges to stand. These two actions caused the prosecutors to scramble for a trial strategy. The judge also admonished the prosecutors harshly throughout the trial. He also denied the prosecutors’ s request to also include lesser charges if the jury could not reach a verdict on the main charge. That decision coupled with the instructions he gave to the jury was a good predictor of the outcome of the case. The judge in the Kenosha case made himself the main character in the trial in order to maintain the “community values.”
The presiding judge in Brunswick showed judicial restraint throughout the trial. He went to great lengths to make himself almost invisible during the trial. He focused on the rule of law, and he allowed all the pertinent charges to be brought forth. While he accepted the final twelve jurors as he was bound by the law to do, he did not hesitate to point out that the defense had engaged in racist tactics in selecting the jury. In a county where over 55% of the county is Black, how could the jury end up with only one Black person? This is the very question the judge posed even though he was bound to accept that outcome. His charge to the jury was concise and clear and he did not try to influence the outcome with his charge to the jury.
The local temperament: In Kenosha, the community seems satisfied with maintaining “segregation” and holding Black people down. Just like in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964 where white supporters of the Black and the civil rights movement were killed by white supremacists, we see a repeat of history in Kenosha, Wisconsin. How dare those white men support Black lives was the effect of the white segregated community in Philadelphia, Mississippi? Fast forward to 2020 where white supporters protested the shooting of an unarmed Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin. How dare those white men support Black lives was the effect of the white segregated community in Kenosha, Wisconsin? The justice system gave the Kenosha community what it lived daily. The jury reflected the makeup of the Kenosha community and its values, and they looked at the videos and had little to no sympathy for the two men supporting Black lives through protest. This reality resulted in a not guilty verdict for a killer seen on the videos committing his crime.
In Brunswick, the community seems to be trying to move from its segregated past even though the vestiges of segregation still exist. The city had elected a Black Mayor. The city officials and members of the white and Black community publicly stated that they did not want to be defined by the acts of the three men who killed an unarmed Black man, Mr. Ahmaud Arbery. Less we forget, the first District
Attorney knew the three killers and decided to recuse herself. The second District Attorney replacing the first one originally decided not to bring charges against the three men who killed Mr. Arbery. After she was dismissed for cause, a third District Attorney from Cobb county was appointed to the case. After she failed to win reelection, yet another District Attorney was assigned to the case. Recall that Mr. Arbery was killed in February 2020 and charges were not brought against the three men until May 2020. The family, the community, and civil rights leaders across the country were outraged and they all vowed to fight for justice for Mr. Arbery. The jurors in the Brunswick case looked at the video and listened to the facts and made their decisions accordingly. The Brunswick community did not want to be defined by the action of three killers.
Two, videos, two juries, two different verdicts! There is still work to be done in America to secure justice for everyone regardless of race, class, or economic status.