Jurors in the trial of three men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery began deliberations Tuesday. Last week, a jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse of all charges, including two counts of homicide. This week on Intercepted: We discuss the details of these two cases, how they differ, and the questions they raise about the normalization of violence in the U.S.
On Friday, Rittenhouse, the teenager who killed two protesters and injured a third at a Black Lives Matter protest, was found not guilty on all charges. Meanwhile, the trial for three men charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery — Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William Bryan — was wrapping up. The Intercept’s Washington Editor Nausicaa Renner is joined by George Chidi, a writer for the Atlanta Objective and contributor to The Intercept, and Robert Mackey, a senior writer for The Intercept. Renner, Chidi, and Mackey break down the Rittenhouse verdict, the video evidence presented during the trial, and bigger questions about what this means for the future of protesting, the far right, and racism in the U.S.
Update: November 24, 2021, 2:35 p.m. ET
All three men charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery — Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William Bryan — were found guilty of murder and other crimes by a jury in Brunswick, Georgia, on Wednesday afternoon.
Nausicaa Renner: Before we get started, a quick note to listeners: This episode contains strong language and descriptions of violence.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
NR: I’m Nausicaa Renner, Washington editor for The Intercept.
Last week, a jury in Wisconsin acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse of all charges.
Court clerk: The State of Wisconsin vs. Kyle Rittenhouse, as to the first count of the information, Joseph Rosenbaum, we the jury find the defendant Kyle H. Rittenhouse not guilty.
As to the second count of the information, Richard McGinniss, we the jury find the defendant Kyle H. Rittenhouse not guilty.
As to the third kind of the information, unknown male, we —
NR: Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed two people and wounded a third at a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year. Rittenhouse claims he went to the protest to protect property from so-called rioters.
Witnesses at the trial testified that a white man named Joseph Rosenbaum chased Rittenhouse and then reached for his AR-15-style rifle. Rittenhouse shot and killed the unarmed Rosenbaum.
Thomas Binger: You said your eyes were focused on the barrel of the weapon.
Richie McGinniss: Yes.
TB: Where was the barrel of the weapon pointed?
RM: At this moment, when he stopped, it was aimed about 45 degrees at the ground.
TB: Did the aim of the barrel of the weapon change?
RM: It did. And when Mr. Rosenbaum lunged, Mr. Rittenhouse kind of dodged around, and then that’s when it was leveled at Mr. Rosenbaum and fired.
NR: Rittenhouse kept running. Other protesters followed him, believing Rittenhouse to be an active shooter and trying to disarm him. As he ran down a street, Rittenhouse fell, where he then turned his gun on other protesters — killing one unarmed man, and injuring a man with a gun.
[Audio of gunshots, and people yelling.]
NR: During the criminal trial this month, Rittenhouse said that he shot all three people in self-defense. The jury found Rittenhouse not guilty of all charges.
Several states away in Georgia, another trial was underway.
This week, the prosecution and defense presented their closing statements in the trial of Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan.
Linda Dunikoski: As I said in the opening, and I’m going to say to you again, this was an attack on Ahmaud Arbery.
They committed the crimes. They committed the four felonies. They attacked him. They shot and killed him. They can’t claim self-defense under the law, because they were the initial unjustified aggressors, and they started this. And they were committing felonies against Ahmaud Arbery.
Jason Sheffield: It is going to take courage — it’s going to take courage to set aside what you think and feel, what may be trying to penetrate you from other sources that you have tried to do your best to avoid, and to focus on the bare facts of this case that have been captured on photograph and video, and that have been testified to in this courtroom. It will take courage.
NR: The three men are on trial for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. Arbery was shot and killed last year by Travis McMichael, after he, his father, and William Bryan chased him down in Brunswick, Georgia after he jogged past their house. The three men were not arrested until video of Arbery’s killing was released.
I spoke with George Chidi and Robert Mackey about these two cases.
George Chidi writes for The Atlanta Objective Substack and is a contributor to The Intercept. And Robert Mackey is a senior writer with The Intercept.
I began by asking Rob what exactly happened on the night of August 25 — the night that Rittenhouse shot three people.
Robert Mackey: The protests over the shooting of Jacob Blake, the Black Lives Matter protests that were happening in Kenosha, the shootings came on the third night of protests. The first night after the initial protests outside government buildings in Kenosha, there was some arson. It was captured by a Fox News contributor, it was all over the place, and it added to this narrative that at the time President Trump and Republicans were keen to spread, which is that there weren’t really any legitimate protests; what was happening was anarchy and looting by this shadowy, sort of made-up group “antifa.” There was an idea that this loose collection of anti-fascist activists were actually a terrorist group declaring war on America. And the images of stores on fire in Kenosha, were seized upon to drive that narrative. And that helped to draw armed vigilantes to the streets two nights later.
That was the situation that Kyle Rittenhouse walked into. And there was even an idea that there were no protests, it was just violent anarchy. But it’s very clear when you go back through and examine all of the many live streams of the protests and the clips shot by conservative commentators and video journalists, in the background there’s a constant series of Black Lives Matter chants. So it absolutely was a protest that he inserted himself into the middle of with a number of other armed, mostly white vigilantes who decided to police and keep an order.
[Chants from the protest of “Black Lives Matter!”]
NR: And why do you think that the Rittenhouse case — what does it come to stand for in the national spotlight?
RM: Well, I mean, it was instantly explained to viewers on Fox News, Tucker Carlson said the next night:
Tucker Carlson: People in charge, from the governor of Wisconsin on down, refused to enforce the law. They stood back and they watched Kenosha burn. So are we really surprised that looting and arson accelerated to murder? How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would.
RM: So I mean, there was this good-guy-with-a-gun narrative right from the very start, that he was effectively acting as — even though self-appointed — a police officer in that situation, and that any force that he used was legitimate because it was against protesters who were just considered anarchists, and rioters, and violent people,
Mark Richards: The police felt as though they were completely surrounded, described the constant gunfire that evening. Mr. Binger wants to slough it off as fireworks this, really wasn’t that bad that night — ladies and gentlemen, it was hell in this area downtown. There were violent people causing trouble.
RM: And also there was there’s an aspect of this, where the video evidence that was presented, what happened to be filmed, and what was released when had an impact, I think, on the conversation, which was that the the first clear images of Rittenhouse shooting people were actually not the first person he shot, which was captured in kind of a murky video from a distance, but of people pursuing him, trying to disarm him after he had killed somebody — and they did use force. When he fell to the ground, they jumped on him, they tried to pull his gun away, one of them led with a skateboard as a shield basically. And it sort of gave this idea that he was running from violent people and had to shoot to defend himself. It seemed to give it some legitimacy — and that was everywhere; that went viral and was embraced by the right.
NR: And what has been the right’s response to Rittenhouses’ acquittal? I mean, what did we see on Friday night?
RM: Unfortunately, the situation obviously is that there are some people who are conservative who could see this as a tragedy and say that even though they support gun rights, and they think that it’s fine for armed civilians to patrol protests, that it’s a tragedy that people died. But that’s not been the overwhelming sentiment that you see in conservative media, certainly social media, but also Fox, and broadcast channels, and opinion talkers. It’s that Kyle Rittenhouse is a hero.
And it’s a very strange thing to watch and to follow the cheering for Rittenhouse. It has elements of the culture war that happened after George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. It has, obviously, a very long history in American life. But it’s incredibly disturbing and we even had members of Congress competing to see who could offer Kyle Rittenhouse a congressional internship.
Rep. Matt Gaetz: He is not guilty. He deserves a not guilty verdict. And I sure hope he gets it because you know what? Kyle Rittenhouse would probably make a pretty good congressional intern. We may reach out to him and see if he’d be interested in helping the country in additional ways.
RM: To some extent do they mean that? Is it just cynical? Is it fundraising? Are they trying to attract the most ardent support of his extremely-online followers? I don’t know. But these are elected officials who were saying that what he did in killing people qualifies him to be on Capitol Hill.
NR: Not to mention Tucker Carlson, did you see the clip of Rittenhouse’s interview with him?
Kyle Rittenhouse: This case has nothing to do with race. It never had anything to do with race. It had to do with the right to self-defense.
KR: I’m not a racist person. I support the BLM Movement. I support peacefully demonstrating.
NR: George, what do you make of Rittenhouse’s claim that it’s not about race? How do you see this case playing into the larger fight for racial justice?
George Chidi: Yeah, let’s start with this. And I think this is a widely observed sentiment. If Kyle Rittenhouse were a Black teenager, and this was a different kind of protest, we wouldn’t be looking at a trial because the cops would have shot him dead on the street. This double standard for what constitutes reasonableness, and what constitutes self-defense, and who and what constitutes a threat and under what circumstances, we have to ask questions about that after this verdict.
I hold nothing against the jury. I think the jury made a decision based on the evidence that they were presented in the context it was presented in, and I am loath to second-guess a decision made by a jury. There’s blame to be assigned, but it’s not to the 12 people who are in the jury room. It’s to a prosecutor who couldn’t handle the case, and a judge that had a thumb on the scale. And I am going to say that.
The judge decided that it was impermissible to discuss Rittenhouse’s prior comments where he basically said: I wanted to go out and shoot someone — when he was referring to people breaking the shoplifting. It was impermissible to talk about his associations with the Proud Boys, which the judge described as incidental. But the judge allowed the background of one of the people that he killed to be entered into evidence, even though there’s no way — there’s no way — that Kyle Rittenhouse knew one thing about the people he shot that night. That’s a double standard. And it’s a fundamental problem, I think, with the conduct of that judge. And I think it’s completely obvious.
This is the thing. As an African-American, as I’m watching this, with the context of all of the other cases where judicial decisions went in exactly the opposite direction, you start to question whether or not the judicial system is fair, fundamentally fair, between a Black person who is committing an act of self-defense and a white person who claims self-defense. Even if I accept that Kyle Rittenhouse committed an act of self-defense that could be exonerated in court, I have to ask about all of the other African-American criminal suspects who also claimed self-defense and who were convicted with a similar degree of evidence.
We see this and we realize that the judicial system has an unacceptable racial double standard when it comes to how people use force. It isn’t that I want Kyle Rittenhouse to be found guilty, necessarily. It’s that I want the same standard of evidence to apply to everyone, including African Americans. And that’s just not happening right now.
NR: And so what precedent do you think is being set by exonerating Rittenhouse while other people are locked up?
GC: Let me tell you the precedent. I’m gonna read a few comments that white supremacists have made since this verdict has come down.
The neo-Nazi Nationalist Social Club wrote on Telegram: “Report any and all communist activity in the New England area in the wake of the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict.”
And then provided their contact information, so that if somebody pops up in the street protesting that looks funny to them, let the neo-Nazis know so they could show up with guns.
White supremacist Brien James on Telegram, in a racist chat group says: “Who wants to go clear out the scum clogging up those courthouse steps?”
Members of the virulently antisemitic Goyim Defense League writing: ”Let’s fucking go defend your streets. I hope all these boomer bitches get out there and get their Kyle on.”
To get their Kyle on. The precedent here is that white supremacists are looking at this like a go signal. Even if this isn’t a legal precedent per se, like if the next courtroom and the next judge with the next Kyle Rittenhouse convicts him, what it means is there’s going to be another Kyle Rittenhouse — that somebody else is going to look at this and go: Hey, well, I might get off, I may as well carry my AR-15 out into the street during the Black Lives Matter protest and see who gets snippy.
RM: The kind of core issue of self-defense in his trial is related to the fact that so much was videotaped. And there was, from the beginning, as there often is now when things are live streamed and recorded on people’s phones from many angles, there was a sort of Zapruder-like effort to get into every little pixel in detail and try to decide what was the determining factor in each of these shootings. I mean, in a broader sense, the idea that you can just bring a gun to a protest, and because you have a gun, piss off the protesters, and then one of them runs at you, and then suddenly it sets off a chain of events where you’re allowed to shoot several people, that would seem to undermine the kind of natural justice sense of self-defense.
When did the incident begin? That became a subject of a lot of debate during the trial, and the prosecution presented an argument that the actual beginning of the first event was not Joseph Rosenbaum chasing Kyle Rittenhouse, which is what you would think from the only other video we’d seen. But when you see the drone footage, they argue that Rittenhouse raised his rifle and pointed it in the direction of either some people who are possibly trying to start a fire or Rosenbaum himself. But their argument is that if you zoom in on the drone footage before anybody chases anyone, you can see Rittenhouse raise and point his rifle at people. And in Wisconsin law, that’s a crime. If you point a loaded gun at somebody, it’s a crime of provocation. And then what ensues after that is your fault. And it undermines the legal claim of self-defense.
TB: You can see it again on the video here. His left arm reaching up towards the gun. That is what provokes this entire incident. And one of the things to keep in mind is that when the defendant provokes the incident, he loses the right to self-defense. You cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create. That’s critical: right here. If you’re the one who was threatening others, you lose the right to claim self-defense.
RM: But because that drone footage that appeared to show that, at least according to the prosecution, was difficult to see and they weren’t really allowed to zoom in the way they wanted to. I think that was very difficult to ask the jury to accept. So it’s still unclear what started that first incident. Obviously, someone pointing a rifle at someone doesn’t require them to charge after them. So in one way, you can see why the jury perhaps thought if Kyle Rittenhouse was being chased by someone, he was afraid and was therefore allowed to shoot. The technicalities of law mean that actually you have a duty to try and get out of there, and Rittenhouse, by slowing down twice — that’s clear on the video he slowed down twice before he fired the shot — and not just continuing to run arguably stopped and shot rather than running away, which could have legally undermined his claim self-defense in that first incident.
And in the second incident, the prosecutor presented what I thought was an interesting, different perspective than what the conservative media had basically presented to the country about what they called the second event, which were the people that Rittenhouse shot after they tried to subdue him because they thought of him as an active shooter. He did shoot Joseph Rosenbaum and then instead of calling 911 and staying at the scene or offering any medical assistance with the little medic bag that he had, he fled the scene.
TB: The defendant’s got his medic bag on, he proclaims himself a medic — he doesn’t know at this point if Anthony Huber’s dead, or alive, or capable of being saved. And yet the defendant offers no assistance, makes no attempt to try and help anyone else. All he cares about is himself.
RM: And the people who chased after him and tried to stop him thought that he killed someone and might kill someone again and so they had a credible reason, I think, to try to subdue him and take his gun away. In the process of doing that, Rittenhouse fell, just while he was running, he tripped and fell; the first person who jumped to try and kick him; he fired two shots at point-blank range at this man, who was never identified during the trial. But Rittenhouse claimed that he was in fear of his life, that’s why he did that. And the technicalities of the law say you’re allowed to defend yourself but maybe not to use deadly force — and that was sort of a murky area. And obviously, the prosecution tried to argue: Look, if someone tries to punch you or hit you with a skateboard, you can hit them back. But if you’re holding a semi-automatic rifle and you fire at them at point-blank range, you’re using deadly force — and you’re not really entitled to do that unless you actually have a legitimate reason to fear for your life.
Rittenhouse said at the trial that he was convinced, in each case, that if he didn’t shoot to kill, these people were going to take his gun, shoot him, and then shoot other people, something for which there is absolutely no evidence. But it appears to persuade the jury; at least their understanding of Wisconsin self-defense laws were that he had reason to fear for his life, so it was OK that he killed other people.
NR: Well, one thing that I’ve heard and analyses of what happened is that we don’t have Rosenbaum’s perspective on it. We don’t know why Rosenbaum started running at Rittenhouse. And we don’t know whether or not he was reaching for the gun. He may have been, and he may have seen Rittenhouse aiming the gun, as you were saying, Rob, but because he was killed and because we don’t have the testimony, the fact that he was killed actually makes Rittenhouse’s case stronger — just rhetorically stronger — because we don’t have the perspective of that person.
RM: Yeah, there’s an odd aspect to the Rosenbaum case, independent of the other ones, as it was to a certain extent, that the only eyewitness testimony besides video was from The Daily Caller videographer Richie McGinniss, who was running after he saw Rosenbaum chase after Rittenhouse, and he ran after the two of them. So he was quite close behind Rosenbaum when Rosenbaum was shot four times by Rittenhouse. And he says that he pressed the wrong button, and therefore there was no video of that which is very believable and very unfortunate, because we would have had extremely clear video of what happened. But the situation that resulted was that only his testimony was the only other eyewitness testimony. And he said that Rosenbaum lunged for the rifle.
All of these shots happen so quickly; it’s a semi automatic rifle. He fired four times. The first shot struck Rosenbaum, who is only four feet away from Rittenhouse in his pelvis and crushed his pelvis and caused him to start falling forward — he held his hands up, there was a gun in front of him; it’s really not possible to say whether he was lunging for the gun or whether he was running with his hands up towards somebody and was shot and fell forward. There’s really no way to know that. But the only testimony we have right from the first night because it was on Tucker Carlson within 24 hours of the shooting was that the first person Rittenhouse killed was lunging for his gun. That was the testimony of the videographer who was close but wasn’t really in a position where you could make that distinction. But that’s what he thought happened. And that’s what he said happened.
It’s this strange thing where everybody thinks everything is filmed, and therefore it’s cut-and-dry-case. But in this case, the video didn’t work. And the videographer had one perspective, but we don’t really have any other information because, as you said, Joseph Rosenbaum was not around to say why he did what he did or what happened to him.
NR: So after the acquittal came down, there were two reactions on the left: There were people who were appalled because they had heard the basic facts of the case, but maybe hadn’t been following the day to day of the trial. They are people that were appalled by his acquittal. And then there are people who were saying something along the lines of: If you were surprised, you weren’t paying attention.
Why were people not surprised? I mean, do you think that people are just totally cynical about the justice system now? Or did it come down to the specifics of the case?
GC: I think it was very much the specifics of the case. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s a problem with the justice system. But the minute it became clear that one of the people that Rittenhouse was shooting at was armed themselves, I could hear the groan from folks who had been looking at this across the country, from my living room.
NR: Yeah, I remember Ryan Grim, the D.C. bureau chief, sent me a message the second that that happened and was like: We should be prepared to cover his acquittal.
GC: [Scoffs.] Yeah. Yeah. Nobody complains when a cop shoots somebody who’s got a gun. Like there’s almost never a protest around that. We talk about it when folks are unarmed — and we’re pissed, because Kyle Rittenhouse shot two people who were unarmed. And frankly, I still think that alone was enough reason to try him, regardless of whether or not he believed he was guilty or innocent, I think that he was owed a trial, because there were two people who were unarmed who died at his hands.
But, yeah, as soon as you saw the third thing with the guy with a gun and having to explain that away — you can’t do that. Juries are OK with people with guns shooting at each other — which is, frankly, part of the problem that I’m seeing moving forward. I think this is going to encourage the wide adoption of armed protest in a country that has a history of peaceful protest. We’re going to have people with guns at abortion rights rallies, or voting rights rallies, or other things, like where you’d never see a gun at this stuff. Now, we’re gonna have a phalanx on either side.
That specific element of the case is what made this an acquittable event. But there was a lot of other stuff going on.
[Soft, pensive music.]
NR: We should talk about the Arbery trial, too, and how it’s been different, especially in terms of the legal surroundings
Gayle King (Good Morning America): Jury will begin deliberations in the trial of three men accused of murdering Ahmad Arbery: Travis McMichael, his father Gregory, and William “Roddie” Bryan could face life in prison if convicted. They have all pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Kelly Evans (CNBC): The lead prosecutor arguing that the men chased Arbery in their pickup trucks and attacked him because he was a “Black man running down the street” in their South Georgia neighborhood. The prosecutor telling the jury there was no evidence that Arbery committed a crime. She also disputed the defense’s claim that they were making a citizen’s arrest, considering they never told police that’s what they were trying to do.
NR: You’ve been actually attending some of the trial —
GC: I have. And we just heard closing arguments in the Arbery trial. And the closing arguments with Linda Dunikoski, she’s a prosecutor out of Cobb County, which is Metro Atlanta, that they piped down there in order to handle this case were really stark. It’s like, you can think anything you’d like to about Arbery — like, can you tell me that there was a justification for his death, unarmed under these circumstances? And there isn’t. It’s really stark. There’s nothing about the Arbery case that lends itself to a self-defense argument. It’s just — it’s not there.
NR: Because they were making a citizen’s arrest.
GC: Because they were making a citizen’s arrest and Arbery was armed. And nobody has claimed otherwise. They’ve tried the scary Black man defense — the he was there, and he lunged for my gun, and I had to shoot him defense.
Travis McMichael: I shot him.
Defense Attorney: Why?
TM: He had my gun. He struck me, it was obvious that he was — it was obvious that he was attacking me, that if he would have gotten the shotgun for me, then it was a life-or-death situation. And I’m gonna have to stop him from doing it. So I shot.
GC: But it’s not working.
Linda Dunikoski: That’s three times he’s demonstrated to you that he does not want to talk to you, correct?
LD: And he’s also demonstrated he’s no threat to you. He hasn’t pulled out a gun.
TM: That’s correct.
LD: He hasn’t said one word to you.
TM: He has not.
LD: He has not threatened you in any way, verbally or physically.
TM: No, ma’am.
GC: And I think the key thing here is that that groan that we heard when we saw that one of the people that Rittenhouse shot was armed, we had the same groan when we saw this video of Ahmaud Arbery being gunned down in the street, like, all the ambiguity went away. There’s nothing that any reasonable person could stand on to say: Oh, no, it was good to kill him. Like, nothing.
And so to some degree, even white supremacists, who want very much to be able to argue, yeah, it’s good to kill this guy whenever a Black person is getting killed by a white person, realize that they could score some brownie points by saying: No, not him. Like: No I think our Ahmaud Arbery was an innocent man and those three guys are dumbasses and should go to jail — this provides them cover for the next case where it’s a close call. This is not a close call.
And I think that people should understand: There isn’t a lot of question in the public in Georgia about whether or not these three guys are going to get convicted. We are almost certainly going to see a conviction; everybody is expecting a conviction. If there is anything but a conviction, there will be massive protests.
NR: And can you talk a little bit about the different legal atmosphere in Georgia. I found that to be really fascinating: that in Wisconsin, they didn’t make any moves to respond legally to the Rittenhouse incident. But in Georgia, they did.
GC: This is gonna sound harsh, but white people in Wisconsin think that they’re not racist. And white people in Georgia recognize that there’s a racist problem in Georgia. And so when you see something like the Ahmaud Arbery killing, even amongst conservatives here, there’s a fear of this reinforcing this perception of Georgia as redneck central, like where the banjos are playing, and people get lynched, and folks are OK with that. Nobody here wants that national and international reputation. Because we’ve seen how much damage it’s done to us.
And so there’s this very strong move toward changing the law so that this archaic, citizen’s arrest law that was used, they got rid of that almost immediately. And they instituted a hate crimes law. Like, even though they’ve been sitting on a hate crimes law forever, given the perceptual threat to the state, they’re not having it. Like, no, we have to fix this!
I say this as they passed all of this crazy voting rights legislation. It’s kind of a different thing. They’re trying to hold on to political power.
But none of that sort of thinking applies to Wisconsin. Nobody goes: Oh, wow, those terrible racists in Wisconsin, what are we going to do? And so there’s no reaction whatsoever from an institutional perspective to the shootings. Like, they just assume that their institutions are strong enough to take care of it. And what we saw is no, not really. No, not at all.
NR: And what kind of institutional change do you think needs to happen in Wisconsin?
GC: Well, I think to start, some of this actually needs to be federal. I think it needs to be clear that showing up armed to a civil protest is itself an act of impermissible, violent menacing, and should be treated as such. It’s not dissimilar to somebody showing up to an abortion clinic with a rifle and standing in front of it. There’s plainly a threat that’s being conveyed. And so if you’re showing up to Black Lives Matter protest, and you’ve got a rifle, I think the assumption should be made that you’re there to be menacing. I think the standard of evidence for proving that sort of thing should be lower.
Plainly, the police department not arresting Rittenhouse on the spot, with two bodies on the ground, three bodies on the ground — institutionally, you have to question whether or not that police department, their leadership, should be cashiered and that their police department be retrained fundamentally in civil rights law — nevermind the community policing element, like the idea that they would treat a white kid like that when we know what would happen with a Black kid under the same circumstances. People were in the streets. Let’s be clear, like there was a shooting in Kenosha of Jacob Blake, who was a 29-year-old Black man, he was injured but not killed by a police officer at a traffic stop. And it was clearly a problem. There’s clearly an institutional problem within policing in Wisconsin because that could happen. That should be impossible. And people were in the street because this very plain observation was in their face. Like there was a call in Wisconsin for institutional change. And here we are, Rittenhouse is free, and still I don’t think the folks of Wisconsin think that there’s anything fundamental that needs to change in their institutions.
RM: One of the things, when you talk about the Jacob Blake shooting, the way that it was raised by the defense during the trial, in itself suggests something is very, very wrong in Wisconsin and Wisconsin’s judicial system with these issues, because the defense lawyer, after the prosecution pointed out that Rittenhouse didn’t just fire once at this first victim Joseph Rosenbaum, he fired four shots, the defense responded by saying: Well, someone else fired seven shots and we know that was OK.
Mark Richards: That shot to the back, as I said, four shots in three quarters of a second. He’s backing up trying to stay away from him, shooting, and shoots until the threat is immobilized. Ladies and gentlemen, other people in this community have shot somebody seven times, and it’s been found to be OK. And my client did it four times, in three quarters of a second to protect his life from Mr. Rosenbaum. I’m sorry, but that’s what happened.
RM: I mean, that’s a stunning moment. It’s a real indictment. I mean, it’s also, I think, to some extent, the wider idea was that Rittenhouse himself was sort of a de facto member of the police force — that the police had thrown water to the armed group that he was with and said We appreciate you guys. But there was a way in which he was on trial almost as a police cadet, even though self-appointed.
And the last thing I would say also, on that point, is the video of the second series of shootings, the end of the video where he walks towards the police with his hands up, and they do not accept his surrender or even talk to him, I think that that was also important because I think it played into this sense that some juries obviously might have that, well, the police know what’s going on, the police could read the situation correctly, that he was not really a threat. And he was running in the direction of the police. And I think that that probably had a significant impact when you have a society where you can say: Well, someone being shot seven times was fine, so why is someone being shot four times a big deal? It’s stunning.
GC: [Sighs.] And a lot of this goes to my broader, like the broader problem, the broader point.
So I spent a couple of weeks working with a German television documentary crew, looking at the politics of America in comparison to Germany, because they’re concerned about a far-right problem in Germany. And the German documentarians over and over again were asking people in Georgia about their relationship with guns and violence. Because Georgia is perceived as this place where you can get a gun, because you can!
So they’re talking to folks. And I mean, like Black college professors, Black civic leaders, Black neighborhood leaders, but also white supremacists. And there were two things that sort of left out at me: One, everybody seems to be armed, Black and white here. It doesn’t matter how prominent you are, doesn’t matter how wealthy you are, there’s no correlation between that and gun ownership.
The other thing was this perception, and it cut across politics, that our country is spinning out of control; that we are drifting toward sectarian violence in ways that would be reminiscent of the Irish Republican Army and the Troubles. Where we’re not talking about massed forces on a battlefield; we’re talking about car bombings, or mall shootings, or targeted assassinations, where the amount of violence that we can expect in society, people believe, is going to increase.
And so I look at this Rittenhouse case in that context, thinking: Are we about to normalize this sort of casual, for lack of a better word, violence? Are we going to begin excusing it as just a matter of course, where our standard for what constitutes self-defense is going to narrow and lower and become more permissive? Simply because we accept that we live in a politically violent, politically dangerous nation? I don’t want to live in that country. I don’t want to be in an America where people shoot at each other over politics as though that’s OK. But that’s what this is going to lead to! And I want to scream it from the rooftops. Like, there has to be a public pushback against normalizing this, or that’s what we’re gonna get.
NR: George Chidi and Rob Mackey, thanks so much for joining me.
GC: You rock. All is well.
RM: Thanks so much.
NR: And that does it for this episode of Intercepted. Follow us on Twitter @Intercepted and on Instagram @InterceptedPodcast.
Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. José Olivares is lead producer. Truc Nguyen helped produce this episode. Supervising producer is Laura Flynn. Betsy Reed is editor in chief of The Intercept. And Rick Kwan mixed our show. Our theme music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.
And I’m Nausicaa Renner.
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Thanks so much. Until next time.