S.E. Williams

A century from now—provided this experiment that is America has sustained itself by having lived up to the promise and potential of its creed—young people will learn that on August 23, 2020, a 29-year-old Black man named Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Blake did not die but is now paralyzed for the rest of his life.

Students will learn how this incident occurred not only in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century but also concurrent with a nation coming to grips with a history of police use of deadly force against Blacks (and other people of color) which, in relation to the shooting of Blake, led to another—in a series of uprisings against police abuse that had pushed people into the streets not only in America but around the world in the summer of 2020.

100 years from now, students will not only learn about Black people who took to the streets demanding change but also how people of all races, religions, and ages broke their silence and joined the fight for change–some lost their lives in the process. 

Newton’s Law of Motion, however, teaches us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And as such, children of the future will also learn that such actions taken by Black people and others pushing for change as was the history of America was once again met with racist resistance. It is what the nation experienced during the years of Reconstruction in the wake of the civil war. It never truly exhausted itself during those years and soon boiled over again during the days of Jim Crow and throughout the Civil Rights years, and then again in response to the election of the nation’s first Black President, Barack Obama only to be further fueled by when Donald Trump took office and stoked the simmering embers of White nationalism. 

So, when an underaged Kyle  Rittenhouse armed himself illegally with an AR-15, put on a bullet proof vest, travelled to Kenosha and then defied a curfew order to strut through an already tense crowd projecting an air of authority amid the chaos and emboldened by the size of his loaded AR-15—it is no wonder, his foray ended in tragedy.

The story of a white police officer shooting a Black man (Blake) in the back in America is not an aberration. Nor was it an aberration when both the district attorney and the Justice Department declined to file charges against the white officer which ultimately led to the demonstrations where Rittenhouse took two lives and forever changed a third.

“If you are not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

Malcolm X

In 2020, rising up in primarily peaceful protests remained one of the limited options available to the Black community to express frustration in response to the continuing miscarriage of justice involving the police use of deadly force.

Similar scenarios had played out in cities across America for generations, but what happened when Rittenhouse armed himself with an AR-15, rode in from another town, inserted himself into the already volatile scenario, incites pushback from protesters,  and then shoots and kills two people and wounds a third was stunning.  

However, this too, was not unusual. The actions of Rittenhouse also harken back to the days of Jim Crow when groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the White League, the Knights of the White Camelia, and others—carry overs from the paddy rollers and slave catchers in the long years before emancipation.

White supremacists’ groups with guns who claim to have god and the law on their side (many of them carried badges) assume their interpretation of the law is the only law that counts. Rittenhouse acted in that tradition with the assumption his actions were law-abiding and just—his assumption was proven correct.

Martin Luther King Jr. once talked about interposition in relation to school desegregation in the South—actions taken by southern governors to block implementation of federal law.

The semblance of Interposition

Rittenhouse, however, did not need southern governors to step between him and the law—he had Judge Bruce Schroeder, whose words and rulings made it clear to many observers that in this case he was not only judge but “interposer” extraordinaire.

With such judicial interposition it was no surprise the jury was ripe and ready to embrace the twin brother of interposition—the ignoble act of jury nullification where jurors, basically believing a law is being wrongly applied to a defendant whose fate they must decide.

Where would the jurors get such an idea? Maybe the seed was planted the moment the judge let it be known the men Rittenhouse killed could be called rioters or looters but not victims or the way he cut the knees out from under the prosecutor again and again.

For those who may argue this case was not about race—that Rittenhouse is white as were the men that he killed and injured. This, of course, is true. But it is also true that the whole scenario began with the death of a Black man who was shot in the back by police which resulted in Blacks and others taking to the streets in protests—Rittenhouse’s victims among them. The white men he killed, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and the man he injured, Gaige Grosskreutz, remind us of other whites who have stood in solidarity with Blacks as we fought for equal rights. You will find some of their names in the history books—Viola Liuzzo, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. 

A question of nullification

Once a jury is nullified and a defendant found not guilty, he can never be tried for the same murder again due to a little something called “double jeopardy.” But what if the juror were unable to reach a verdict . . . if  the case had ended with a hung jury? With Judge Schroeder there was no guarantee, but it certainly would have left the door open for another trial. There was one Black juror who had the power in his/her hands to do this. I wonder what he/she thought.

Whether the children of the future will learn about how police shot an unarmed Black man named Jacob Blake seven times in the back, and how, when officials failed to press charges against the policeman who shot him, led to civil unrest that resulted in the killing of two other men and the maiming of a third by a 17-year-old named Rittenhouse (celebrated and supported by White Supremacists) and eventually  found not guilty of their death and injuries and the reasons why, will depend on who gets to tell the story and that of course, will depend on three things. Who wins the culture war regarding what version of history we teach our children; who wins the battle for equal justice in America; and who wins the long suffering struggle for the soul of this nation.

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

S.E. Williams

Stephanie E. Williams is an award winning investigative reporter, editor and activist who has contributed to several Inland Empire publications. Williams spent more than thirty years as a middle-manager...