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Injustice Everywhere: The Trials of 2021 Expose Judicial Bias and the Persistence of White Supremacy



This week on democracy-ish, Danielle welcomes guest Wajahat Ali back for another discussion about how to dismantle white supremacy.


  • As of Friday morning, November 19, jurors in the trial of Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse are on their fourth day of deliberations. [Editorial note: News broke later Friday that the jury found Rittenhouse not guilty on all counts.]

  • On Monday, closing arguments are expected to begin in the Georgia trial of three men charged with killing Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery.

  • Is there any hope for real accountability in either case? What can these trials tell us about the persistence of white rage? And what can history teach us about the long arc of justice?


Last week, Danielle took a few days off to celebrate her birthday. That meant disconnecting from social media and cable news. Sometimes she just needs to “recharge and restore my spiritual, emotional and physical well being,” she says.


When she returned, things were even worse than usual, if that’s possible.


“I dipped my toe back into the cesspool of Twitter and pulled up the hashtag ‘Rittenhouse’ — people were saying that these victims had it coming … there was this overwhelming air of terrorism,” she says.


“Social media is often the cesspool of humanity,” says Wajahat Ali, who returned to the show this week to discuss two high-profile trials that crystallize the racial injustice — and the struggle for reckoning — we face in America today. “It brings out our collective id. It emboldens the worst of us.”


As Danielle and Waj recorded this episode, a jury was still deciding the fate of Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot and killed two men and injured another in August 2020 during a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the men who murdered Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020 are on trial in Georgia.


“These three white men who hunted Ahmaud as he was out jogging in his own neighborhood, encircled him with their pickup trucks and gunned him down — their defense is that they were going to conduct a ‘citizen’s arrest,’” says Danielle. “Because that’s how empowered white men feel in this country.”


If 2020 exposed the fragility of our democracy and persistence of white supremacy, 2021 has taught us how slow and painful the journey toward any measure of justice will be.


A year after these senseless killings and the uprisings that followed, we’re watching the trials unfold — with as much hope as we can muster.


Episode Highlights –– America’s On Trial


‘The Black’ (er, red) flag

Kyle Rittenhouse was just 17 when he traveled from his hometown of Antioch, Illinois across state lines to Kenosha on August 25, 2020. Protests had been breaking out in the Wisconsin city for days in reaction to local police shooting a 29-year old Black man, Jacob Blake. Blake was paralyzed as a result of his injuries.


Rittenhouse pleaded not guilty to five felony counts of homicide and reckless endangerment. On Monday morning, Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed a sixth charge, a misdemeanor related to possession of a dangerous weapon by a minor (which Rittenhouse was at the time of the shooting). The defense successfully argued that a loophole in state law allows minors to possess guns with barrels 16 inches or longer.


That’s just one of many dramatic moments in an explosive, emotional trial. The jury heard testimony from the injured victim, a conservative videographer and even the defendant himself. The judge is “like this comical cartoon character,” says Waj. “Just today, he referred to the only Black juror — I did not make this up — as ‘a Black.’


Judge Schroeder: No victims in this murder trial

And that’s not the only odd thing about Judge Schroeder. Apparently, his ringtone is Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.,” the unofficial MAGA anthem. His decision to allow Rittenhouse to randomly pick his own jurors has raised more than a few eyebrows.


And as Danielle notes, Schroeder barred the prosecution from using the word “victim” to describe the protesters Rittenhouse killed and injured because he thought it was too political.


“It was fine to refer to them as arsonists or looters, but not victims who are no longer able to take the stand, as his third victim did,” says Danielle.


“In a strange way, it’s cathartic,” says Waj of the apparent bias in the courtroom.


“Now the rest of America is clearly seeing the absurd double standards.”


A ‘modern-day lynching’ in Georgia

More than 1000 miles away from Kenosha, another lone Black person sits on a jury in Brunswick, Georgia, assessing the evidence against three white men who killed 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery while he was out for a jog in a suburb near his home.


65-year-old Gregory McMichael, his 35-year-old son Travis and their neighbor William Bryan, 52, each face nine charges, including murder and aggravated assault. They have pleaded not guilty to all of them, claiming that they suspected Arbery of committing break-ins in the area.


But Waj points out that “one of the killers, as he stood over the dead body of Arbery — which was a modern-day lynching — called him an f-ing n-word. Just to let you know how he really felt.”

Plus, Waj notes that we would’ve never known what these men did to Arbery if it were not for the video that was released months later and blew up on social media.


Neither he or Danielle have much hope that justice will be served for Arbery or the victims of Kyle Rittenhouse.


The last time Danielle had faith in our justice system was during the trial of George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin in 2012 and was later acquitted of all charges.


“I believed in my heart of hearts that there was no way that this white Latino man was going to get away with knowingly hunting down this teenage boy,” she says.


Frontier justice lives on in the ’burbs

Danielle remembers listening to the 911 operator who told Zimmerman to stop following Martin. She thought it was slam-dunk evidence that proved Zimmerman’s malevolence.


But as the trial wore on, it became clear that in both the courtroom and the public square, Martin was on trial. Fox News posted pictures of him throwing off rap lyrics, as 16-year-old boys do. They tried to turn this Space Camp graduate into some type of thug, as if he deserved to be murdered in broad daylight. I said, “There’s no way he’s going to walk. But he walked.”


Danielle asks Waj: “What did you think when you watched the Zimmerman trial? Because that is what birthed Black Lives Matter.”


“I thought he’d walk, to be honest,” he replies. “I hate being cynical. But this is the good old boy rule of America: You can exercise justice the frontier way, against the menace that is attacking your suburban community. I’m using the language of the McCloskeys, if you remember that pathetic, wealthy suburban couple in St. Louis who pointed guns at [protesters in] a peaceful BLM rally.”


The McCloskeys were charged with a misdemeanor for illegally brandishing firearms, but they were pardoned by the Republican governor of Missouri and then “given a plum spot at the RNC,” he adds. (Plus, they were spotted outside the Kenosha courthouse, supporting Kyle Rittenhouse.)


“They used the same language that’s been used in America since the 19th century: Essentially, the Blacks are attacking the suburbs and you have to protect yourselves. Now Mark McCloskey is running for Senate.”


Beware of fire-starting wolves (and ‘human nature’)

It’s the same kind of language “Hillbilly Elegy” author and Ohio U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance uses to stoke fear among white folks, says Waj.


Vance tweeted last week that “we let the wolves set fire to their communities,” which was a barely veiled reference to Black BLM protesters.


“I didn’t know wolves could start fires,” Waj quips. “Awesome.”


Then Vance defended Rittenhouse, calling him a “baby boy” whose “human nature told him to defend what no one else was defending.”


But answering the call of “human nature” is only OK for white men and boys.


“The funny thing is, I’m filled with rage all the time at the injustices that I see across America. But God forbid that I were to act on them,” says Danielle. “God forbid if I were to go on television and have anything other than a gentle smile on my face. I’m the one that’s labeled as the angry Black woman and I’m the one that will end up on an FBI watch list.”


‘It’s good to be king’ — and even just to be a white guy

Meanwhile, the self-styled “QAnon Shaman” was just sentenced to 41 months in prison “for attempting to violently overthrow the government,” says Danielle. “These people were chanting ‘hang Mike Pence’ after they built a guillotine on the steps of the Capitol. There are people serving 41 months in prison for [possessing] marijuana, which is now a billion-dollar industry.”


That makes Waj think of the classic 1981 movie “History of the World,” in which Mel Brooks plays a French king.


“In one of the segments, he just does anything he wants,” Waj explains. “He grabs a woman’s ass, he slaps someone … and each time, he looks at the camera and says, It’s good to be the king.”


In the same way, “it’s good to be a white criminal. It’s good to be a white killer. It’s good to be a white man,” he adds.


It’s good to be Eddie Gallagher, too. He’s “the white Navy SEAL who brutally killed a 12-year old-boy, an ISIS captive,” Waj explains. “He knifed him. He was such a freaking violent sociopath that his own SEAL teammates testified against him.”


Now, Gallagher — who was convicted but pardoned by Trump — is a right-wing hero.


Are we regressing to the ’50s?

“If Rittenhouse and the Arbery killers go free, it’s open season,” says Waj.


“White rage and white grievance can be exercised. Stand your ground, take out your gun, shoot to kill. You will have no consequences. We’re going to go back to 1952 in the South, where if a Black kid gives you lip or allegedly whistles at you — and his name was Emmett Till — you can get the entire town to hunt him down, kill him, mutilate him, torture him, lynch him. And you will get off scot-free. That’s how America is great again for those folks.”


Danielle thinks it all ties back to the new conservative boogeyman, critical race theory (CRT), which has been discussed quite a bit on democracy-ish.


But if you need a reminder, critical race theory “is not a thing in K-12 [schools],” she says. “It is something taught at the graduate level, in law school. But the reality is this: I don’t think a majority of Americans, if you were to poll them, know who Emmett Till is. Because the goal has always always been to whitewash our history.”


This is who we are

We’ve never wanted to teach American children about the “violent and cruel acts” committed by mostly white men, Danielle notes, “because people say: This is not who we are.”


It’s a “mantra people love to tweet out” after people with privilege or power commit atrocities.