On the video, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse can be seen jogging down the middle of a street, weaving around protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, cradling his assault rifle in his arms. Someone can be heard yelling that Rittenhouse “just shot” someone, and then a “get that guy.”
Rittenhouse speeds up, then falls. As three or four protesters converge on him, Rittenhouse fires at near-point blank range, sending one man to the ground, dead. He gets hit by another protester, and then fires off another round. It rips through that man’s arm, tearing away chunks of flesh and muscle. He then fires more shots, as protesters scatter.
In all, Rittenhouse, who doesn’t live in Kenosha, has killed two people and seriously injured a third. A swarm of police officers is waiting at the end of the block, just yards away from the carnage, and Rittenhouse, still carrying his assault rifle — which is now a murder weapon — approaches with his hands up.
And the cops drive right by him.
For all of the arguing, all of the protesting and anti-protesting and riots and looting and complaining and fear-mongering, there is no single scene that better exemplifies the underlying friction between American law enforcement and the non-white public it is meant to serve than those cops in Kenosha driving right on by a double murderer.
Because they weren’t looking for a white kid.
Even if that white kid was holding an assault rifle. Even if there were people screaming that that white kid had just killed people (there literally was someone screaming that at police). Even if the police could see the bodies in the street, a nurse already performing CPR on one victim and dozens of people tending to the other victims.
That’s the problem.
They drive right on by Rittenhouse. But Jacob Blake gets shot seven times in the back because maybe he possibly had a weapon in the car — where his three young kids were sitting — and, hey, those cops want to go home to their families at night.
And there’s the question, isn’t it? What made cops less nervous about a double-murderer who’s carrying an assault rifle than they were about a man at the scene of a fight who opened a car door?
For God’s sakes, there were at least four cops there, their weapons drawn and pointed at Blake. What was he possibly going to do with a knife, even if there was one in the car? The man had literally brought a knife to a gunfight.
And yet, here we are again. With white conservatives dishing out any and all reasons why the Black guy brought the shooting on himself. With a host on America’s No. 1 white supremacy news network explaining why Rittenhouse was a hero for driving to a protest with an assault rifle and killing two people.
Thankfully, though, polls show that they are now losing the national debate over this, and losing it badly. Because, finally, Americans have noticed the troubling trends, and one by one, they have decided that some things need to change.
Because it’s not OK that Dylan Roof gets a ride through the fast food drive-thru after murdering Black churchgoers in South Carolina, but Eric Garner gets choked to death for selling loose cigarettes.
It’s not OK that Gregory and Travis McMichael were going to get away with executing Ahmaud Arbery because the DA thought they were good guys, but George Floyd got a knee on his neck for nine freakin’ minutes over a possibly counterfeit bill.
It’s not OK that cops can manage to not kill Steven Carrillo, the boogaloo extremist who killed a federal agent and then killed a sheriff’s deputy and critically injured another officer during his arrest, but shot Breonna Taylor multiple times while she slept in her own bed, completely innocent.
There’s a problem here.
And it’s one that’s not limited to shootings. A Black store owner in Decatur who called police to report a theft was mistaken for the criminal and punched. Every other day, there is a viral video online of a cop stopping Black people for no real reason, or demanding ID of Black men who are standing in front of their own homes.
Time after time, in incident after incident, white suspects are treated humanely and with respect, while Black suspects are disrespected, provoked, Tazed, beaten, paralyzed by bullets or shot to death.
It’s not right. And all of us should demand better.
It’s not disrespecting the police to say I want them to treat me and my Black neighbor the exact same way. It’s not disrespecting the police to be critical when that standard very obviously isn’t met.
This country’s founding documents promise equality. Those promises were, of course, laughable when they were made. But over the growth of this country, it has been our stated goal to achieve those promises.
We’ll never get there if we don’t solve the racism problem within American law enforcement.