Editorials, Opinion

2 similar trials, 2 different verdicts

November saw two high-profile criminal trials with two major — but very different — verdicts.

First was the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse for the deaths of two men and the wounding of a third during the unrest in Kenosha, Wis.

Second was the trial of Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, for the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, in Brunswick, Ga.

In the Arbery case — often referred to by the name of the victim rather than his killers — the McMichaels and Bryan took it upon themselves to track down a man they thought might be a burglar. The McMichaels chased down and entrapped Arbery with their truck, while Bryan followed behind in a separate vehicle, filming the event. Then Travis McMichael — wielding a rifle — went after Arbery, who was unarmed.

The similarities between the trials were striking. In both cases, the defendants went out to “defend property,” were armed with loaded guns and claimed self-defense to justify killing their victims. In both cases, none of the defendants had any business doing what they were doing.

What defenders of Rittenhouse and the McMichaels fail to understand is that the victims’ crimes — alleged or proven — had no bearing on their deaths. Rittenhouse had no knowledge of his victims’ criminal histories. If he had, the prosecutor should have charged him with premeditated murder. The McMichaels thought to make a citizen’s arrest of a suspected burglar instead of calling police, and their unlawful confrontation resulted in Arbery’s slaying. Even if Arbery had been charged with and convicted of a crime, his punishment would not have been death.

None of the crimes one might assign to the victims is legally punishable by death, regardless of how anyone may feel about those crimes.

Nowhere is it legal for armed vigilantes to take the law into their own hands — for average citizens to go out on the street and play judge, jury and executioner.

As similar as the cases were, the verdicts were not.

The jury in Wisconsin believed Rittenhouse’s assertions he was defending himself. We stand by our statement that the 17-year-old had no reason to be there. Rioting and looting are crimes, yes, and crimes should be handled by law enforcement — not children armed with AR-15 style rifles. As distressing as it is to see property destroyed or stolen, property can be replaced — people cannot. And in multiple days of unrest in Kenosha, the only fatalities came at Rittenhouse’s hands.

The jury in Georgia didn’t buy the self-defense excuse. Even if you erase race from the equation — which was nearly impossible to do, between a lawyer’s racist dog whistles and an almost-all white jury — as the prosecutor said, “You can’t start it and claim self-defense.”

Is this what happens when pro-gun culture spends decades lobbying the message that the only way to stop a “bad” guy with a gun — or without one — is a “good” guy with a gun? Have we, as a culture, decided vigilantism is acceptable, and now we are only defining its boundaries?

In such a world, there is too little justice and too many unnecessary deaths.