OPINION: Is race a factor?
Sign at the Black Lives Matter protest in Los Angeles, CA. May 29, 2020.
Police brutality is not new to our country. Now more than ever, change within our policing system is being demanded all over America. With the murder of George Floyd that was committed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin this past May, the voices of the Black Lives Matter movement have become louder than ever and have gained great attention across the nation, and around the world. This year alone, police in the United States have killed 1,019 people. With that, 28% of those 1,019 were Black Americans, despite Black people only making up 13% of the American population. Why is it that Black Americans are killed at a disproportionate rate as compared to their white counterparts? Is race a factor?
The way modern American policing works is deeply rooted in racist practices that date back to the founding of the nation. Police departments are direct descendants of slave patrols, which evolved into what we know as police departments after the civil war. These police departments took a more calculated approach to policing freed slaves than slave patrols which apprehended runaway slaves and returned them, and incited violence and terror to prevent slave revolts. Police departments enforced Jim Crow laws, which legalized forced segregation of white and people of color. These were insurance of denying freed slaves equality in America. Our policing system was built on a foundation of white supremacy, and with that institutional racism within our criminal justice system was born.
There are so many instances in which police have murdered innocent people and have yet to face any type of consequences (here is a list from the BBC of some of the more famous and recent examples; keep in mind, this list is not complete). In this country, it seems as though police brutality has not only been normalized but is protected, between federal law and willful community ignorance. Police have been allowed to take lives under the guise of their motto: 'Protect and Serve'. Has the normalization of police lawlessly taking black and brown lives without consequence contributed to the new wave of MAGA hat-wearing, blue lives matter loving vigilante-style militia? The answer is yes. A perfect example of this is Kyle Rittenhouse.
Aug. 23, 2020, in Kenosha County, Wiscosin, 29-year-old Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey. Blake was shot as he walked around his SUV and opened the driver's side door to check on his sons that were sitting in the backseat. Although the shooting was not fatal, Blake is now paralyzed. After two nights of Black Lives Matter protests demanding justice for Jacob Blake, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse from Antioch, Illinois, and a small armed militia crossed state lines into Kenosha County, Wisconsin. As seen in a video posted on Twitter (the full version now on YouTube), Rittenhouse claimed that he was "going into harm's way" in Kenosha to protect businesses. Just before midnight, Rittenhouse had shot three unarmed protesters, wounding one, Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, and killing two, Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26.
Since then, Rittenhouse has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety, attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18. Rittenhouse’s defense has stated that he acted purely in self-defense and was “hunted as prey” by protesters. Rittenhouse is currently being held in Illinois with pending extradition to Wisconsin.
Rittenhouse put protesters in immediate danger because Kenosha police allowed him to roam the streets of Kenosha with a visible semi-automatic weapon. Rittenhouse was not touched, let alone questioned by police. This is white privilege rooted in white supremacy at its finest. I am not saying that police should have harmed or used deadly force against Kyle Rittenhouse. Frankly, I don’t think that cops should be using deadly force against anyone, innocent or guilty. What I am saying is because of the way this country was built on white supremacy and the way that white supremacy enables institutional racism in America, Rittenhouse has been given the privilege of walking away from the event unharmed and keeping his life, even though he took two innocent lives, while Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, was shot seven times for "resisting arrest" in the same county.
One thing is for sure: Rittenhouse carried out all his actions on Aug. 25, 2020, with confidence and without fear of the police, and that is white privilege. He was able to cross state lines with ease and openly carry a semi-automatic weapon without being perceived as a threat to police, which is white privilege. Rittenhouse did not worry about the potential repercussions of his actions on Aug. 25 because he has never had to do so in his life. Rittenhouse has never had a reason to second guess his actions in the eyes of law enforcement because law enforcement has never been a threat to his livelihood, and that is white privilege.
Geraldine is a junior and is majoring in journalism. She likes to bake and read in her free time.