Bria Swenson holds a sign during a demonstration Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Oakland, Calif., following the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wis. Asserting self-defense, Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges in the deadly shootings that became a flashpoint in the debate over guns, vigilantism and racial injustice in the United States. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)
The trials of Kyle Rittenhouse and three men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery had vastly different outcomes. But coming just days apart, they laid bare a dangerous and long-running current in the fight for racial equality: The move by some white Americans to grab guns and take their own stand against perceptions of lawlessness, particularly by Black people.
The two cases, which ended with an acquittal for Rittenhouse last week and guilty verdicts for Arbery’s killers on Wednesday, highlighted polarizing issues about gun and self-defense laws, and racial injustice.
They also forced the questions: Who or what is being protected? And from whom? Should peace of mind for white Americans come at the expense of the protection and safety of Black Americans?
“So much of this issue about protection and safety is about the safety and the protection of whites or white property,” said Carol Anderson, historian and professor of African American studies at Emory University. “There is a hubris of whiteness. The sense that it is on me to put Black lives back into their proper place.”
Arbery, a Black man, was chased and shot to death by white men suspicious of an outsider in their predominantly white Georgia neighborhood. In Wisconsin, while both Rittenhouse and the three men he shot were white, the encounter was triggered by the 17-year-old’s decision to travel from his Illinois home to Kenosha and arm himself with an AR-15 rifle, bent on protecting local businesses from Black Lives Matter protesters.
The unmistakable connection: The idea that white men who perceive a problem “should grab a gun and wade into trouble and then claim self-defense,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law.
“This is a product of a gun culture. It’s also a product of laws … that give white men with guns the ability to create chaos and sometimes get away with it,” said Waldman, author of “The Second Amendment: A Biography.”
The two coinciding trials highlighted deep racial rifts within American society, particularly following last year’s