Air Date 12/2/2021
[00:00:00] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left Podcast in which we shall take a look at the state of white supremacy in the United States through the lens of three recent trials. Kyle Rittenhouse's acquittal for his role in the deaths of two and injury of one in Kenosha, Wiscon. The conviction of the three men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery during what they claimed was a citizens arrest. And a civil suit filed against white supremacists for their role in the death and injuries during the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally and counter-protests.
Clips today are from In the Thick, Today, Explained, Intercepted, Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show, and with additional members-only clips from The Majority Report and Democracy Now!.
White Violence on Steroids - In The Thick - Air Date 11-16-21
[00:00:45] JULIO RICARDO VARELA - HOST, IN THE THICK: Tell me how this trial has exposed the obvious. Meaning the racism and white supremacy in our justice system. How is it clear in your eyes?
[00:00:53] ELIE MYSTAL: One way, since we're among friends here, I'd like to address the thing that's kind of bubbling up underneath the service, which is like a couple of people, white criminal defense attorneys, some even people of color criminal defense attorneys, kind of bubbling up with like, well, you know, the judge is really harsh on the prosecution and overall we would like judges to be more harsh on the pro-- yes, that's true. It would actually be great if judges were harsh on the prosecution, as Bruce Schrader has been harsh on the prosecution throughout this trial. Do you think that happens if the defendant is black in that chair, as opposed to white? Cuz I don't. And that then becomes to me like the heart of this problem.
Everybody in good faith and honesty knows that if Kyle Rittenhouse was Black this would not be happening. Right? If his name was Kyrie Ritter, as opposed to Kyle Rittenhouse, and Kyrie Ritter videotaped himself two weeks before the shooting, talking about how we want to go to a MAGA rally and shoot people, then traveled across state lines to go to a MAGA protest, then found and harassed the MAGA protestors, and then the minute the tables were turned on him, shot and killed two MAGA protesters and wounded a third, nobody would think that Kyrie Ritter would get off on a claim of self-defense. In fact, they're not a lot of people who think Kyrie Ritter would have been able to walk out of the city alive.
[00:02:18] JULIO RICARDO VARELA - HOST, IN THE THICK: Exactly. I was going to say walking past police officers with an AR-15, Kyrie Ritter would we be like dead.
[00:02:23] ELIE MYSTAL: Right. So if we understand that fundamental truth that Kyrie Ritter could not have done what Kyle Rittenhouse just did, the rest is just trying to explain how the white bias that we already know is in the justice system is being applied directly to the Rittenhouse case.
[00:02:43] JULIO RICARDO VARELA - HOST, IN THE THICK: Yeah. Michael, you know, Elie talked about your work during the George Floyd protests and you've been vocal how police have treated protesters. And you as a journalist, what are your thoughts about all that's been going down?
[00:02:55] MICHAEL HARRIOT: Well, it's interesting when you listen to what Ellie says, right? Like the idea that a judge can pick and choose when to be harsh to a prosecutor as if the idea that there is something that exists called "being harsh to a prosecutor," right? Like that lets you know that it is not an objective exercise, this system that we call justice.
And the other thing is we speculate on what would have happened if Kyle Rittenhouse was Black, but when you think about it, all of the accusations and vilifications that are levied at Black people and Black so-called thugs, Kyle Rittenhouse, is that, right? He's a high school dropout from a single parent family, and it's not to denigrate any of that. But on the right, their excuse is this is what happens when they don't value education. When they don't have a father in the home, this is what happened and this is the cause. Whiteness is not racism. It's just like the circumstances of quote unquote "Black culture" that produces these effects. And now we see this is the perfect example. If he was Black, we'd be calling it he was on Instagram flexing with guns, right? That's what they tried with Trayvon Martin did with gold teeth in his mouth, right? They'd be calling him a thug.
[00:04:14] ELIE MYSTAL: Yup. JD Vance, the Republican candidate for, I don't know, emperor of Ohio, whatever he's running for right now. And he went on Twitter and he was just like, I mean, you look at this case, you just wonder where the fathers are, which is kind of what Michael is saying is what they would say about what a Black kid.
But see, JD Vance did that as a way to excuse Kyle Rittenhouse.
[00:04:33] JULIO RICARDO VARELA - HOST, IN THE THICK: Ah, yeah.
[00:04:34] ELIE MYSTAL: As an argument for while Kyle Rittenhouse should walk free. JD Vance ain't never do that when it's a Black child from a broken home who commits a crime. And I'm talking about like shoplifting, you wouldn't get JD Vance to get on Twitter and say let's let that Black kid get away free from shoplifting because he came from a broken home with no father. Never say it. But a white guy guns down two people in the street. Oh, now we have to consider the fact that he came from a fatherless home.
Kyle Rittenhouse and the “self-defense” defense - Today, Explained - Air Date 11-22-21
[00:05:05] SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: So you got some people who look at the Rittenhouse verdict and see an abomination of justice. Others see a triumph. But we wanted to know what people who study the law saw, so we reached out to Eric Rubin. He's a law professor at SMU in Dallas, Texas.
[00:05:20] ERIC RUBEN: So I think that this verdict is an example for many legal scholars and for many out there in the public of how self-defense interacts with the volatile combination of gun carrying, and expanded gun rights, vigilantism, and civil unrest. And it raises questions about recent efforts in much of the country to make it easier to justify shooting deaths as lawful self-defense.
[00:05:47] SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: What are the other cases where we've seen these kinds of self-defense arguments being used?
[00:05:51] ERIC RUBEN: There are cases that come to mind for me are the trial of George Zimmerman after he killed Trayvon Martin, and the ongoing trial of the three men who chased down and then killed Ahmad Arbery.
[00:06:07] SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: Well, let's talk about each of those starting with Zimmerman. Can you remind us how self-defense factored into that trial?
[00:06:13] ERIC RUBEN: Zimmerman was operating as a Neighborhood Watch man and Trayvon Martin was walking through the neighborhood and Zimmerman approached and went after Trayvon Martin.
[00:06:29] GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: He's coming the check me out. He's got someone in his hands. I don't know what his deal is.
[00:06:35] 9-11 DISPATCHER: Are you following him?
[00:06:37] GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: Yeah.
Okay. We don't need you to do that.
[00:06:40] ERIC RUBEN: And when a scuffle ensued, Zimmerman shot and killed Martin. And subsequently he said that he was fearing for his life and that's why he did it. He claimed self-defense.
[00:06:53] COURT CLERK: Members of the jury. Have you reached a verdict?
[00:06:56] SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: And it worked?
[00:06:58] ERIC RUBEN: Yes.
[00:06:59] ZIMMERMAN JURY FOREMAN: We the jury find George Zimmerman, not guilty.
[00:07:05] SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: Tell me what's going on in the Arbery case right now. How's self-defense being used in that trial?
[00:07:11] ERIC RUBEN: So the fact pattern in that trial is somewhat similar to the fact patterns that we see in Rittenhouse and also in the trial of Zimmerman. In the trial of the men who killed Arbery, three white men in Georgia chase down Arbery who's a black man. He was out for a run. And they claimed that they thought he was a burglar who they wanted to arrest. Of course they weren't police officers. So this would be a so-called "citizens arrest."
[00:07:37] LINDA DUNIKOSKI: You could have just let him run, correct?
[00:07:41] TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: I could have, but I also wanted to make sure that everything was okay down the road and see what was happening. I wanted to ask him, at least ask him what was happening.
[00:07:50] ERIC RUBEN: And when Arbery tried to run away, they cornered him and he ran at one of them who was holding the gun. And that man shot him several times, killing him.
He had my gun. He struck me. It was obvious that he was attacking me, that if he would have got the shotgun from me, then it was a, this is a life or death situation and I'm going to have to stop him from doing this. So I shot.
[00:08:15] TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: And all three of those men are on trial. And as in the other cases, the Zimmerman trial and the Rittenhouse trial, they claimed that the killing was lawful self-defense.
[00:08:29] SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: And in all three cases, you've got the people claiming self-defense having firearms, and at least some of the people they shot being unarmed.
[00:08:40] ERIC RUBEN: That's right. It's important when you consider these cases of self-proclaimed "protectors of the peace" to take stock of the fact that they did this policing carrying guns. And that raises another interesting thing that ties all these cases together. In the Rittenhouse, in the ongoing Georgia prosecution, part of why the defendants say lethal force was necessary was that they were afraid of their own guns being taken from them. So there's some circular logic here. In both Rittenhouse and the case arriving out of Arbery's killing, men show up with guns to supposedly maintain law and order. And when a predictable confrontation ensues, they worry that their own guns will be used against them. And so they shoot. So they're vigilantism and their decision to do it with guns becomes intertwined with, and arguably even gives rise to, their claim of self-defense.
And for Rittenhouse, at least it worked during his trial.
[00:09:43] SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: How has the self-defense defense supposed to work? Is there some sort of like clear legal parameter here?
[00:09:55] ERIC RUBEN: Well, self-defense law traditionally has operated to steer conflicts away from unnecessary lethal violence. And the way that it does that is by requiring both necessity and proportionality. The necessity inquiry asks whether it was necessary to use force to stop the threat. The proportionality inquiry asks whether the force that was used was proportionate to whatever the perceived threat was. And those two concepts are viewed through a lens of reasonableness. So did the defendant reasonably believe that his defensive force was necessary and proportionate?
And the way that those two concepts of necessity and proportionality operates to steer conflicts away from lethal outcomes, or at least are supposed to operate that way, is by establishing that deadly defensive force is only proportional to a threat of death or serious bodily injury. In other words, you can't use lethal force if you just think someone's going to poke you with a feather. This limitation is intuitive and historically was rationalized by an interest in preserving life. But many jurisdictions are adjusting their law in other ways that make it easier to justify the use of deadly force, such as by passing "stand your ground" laws that have been in the news frequently over the past decade or so.
[00:11:18] SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: I mean, these self-defense laws seem like they apply most soundly to situations where you're trying to protect your home or your property. But a lot of these cases are taking place in public. Do we have a clear set of parameters about how self-defense laws or stand your ground laws work when you're not on your property, when you're in the middle of a city like Kenosha?
[00:11:42] ERIC RUBEN: Sure. Well, under English law, and this is the law that we inherited in the United States, if you kill someone in public and you raise the defense of self-defense, your self-defense claim fails if you reasonably could have safely retreated to avoid whatever the danger was. And that's still the law in various states that maintain that common law tradition.
So in other words, traditionally, the law of self-defense scrutinizes lethal defensive violence more closely in public places. But in many places across the country, either through a court decision or more recently through "stand your ground" laws, the law shifted so that defendants don't have to retreat, if they're lawfully wherever they are, and they did not unlawfully provoke the conflict.
So these "stand your ground" laws broaden the range of circumstances when it's permissible to kill another person in public and receive the benefit of the law of self-defense.
And at the same time, there's an ongoing debate in the United States about the lawfulness and the desirability of people carrying handguns in public for self-defense and for the protection of the community. And this is something that is actually getting litigated at the Supreme Court right now. So that case, the case that's pending before the Supreme Court right now, is called New York State Rifle and
[00:13:04] CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS: Pistol Association versus Brewin. Mr. Clement?
[00:13:08] LAWYER: Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the court, the text of the Second Amendment enshrines a right not just to keep arms, but to bear them.
[00:13:17] ERIC RUBEN: And it was just argued actually a couple of weeks ago. It involves a Second Amendment challenge to New York's strict permitting law for the public carry of concealed handguns. In New York for over a century now, in order to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun in public, you need to show heightened need for self-defense, something that separates your security needs from the general public. And certainly wanting to carry a handgun to police fellow citizens, like what we saw in Kenosha, would not count. About 80 million Americans live in places that have a similar law to New York. And in these places right now, it's fairly difficult to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun in public.
But during oral arguments that seem that the conservative justices, and right now the conservative justices make up a majority of the Supreme Court, viewed the constitutionality of the New York law with skepticism.
[00:14:10] JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO: There are a lot of armed people on the streets of New York and in the subways late at night right now, aren't there?
[00:14:18] LAWYER: I don't know that there are a lot of armed people.
[00:14:20] JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO: No?
[00:14:21] LAWYER: There are people with illegal guns, if that's what you're referring to.
[00:14:23] JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO: That's what I'm talking about.
[00:14:25] ERIC RUBEN: And if it turns out that they strike it down, that would mean that it would be much easier to lawfully carry a handgun in New York and other states with similar policies. And you might expect to see the dynamics of somebody carrying a handgun and fearful that the handgun will be taken from them and turned against them. You might expect to see that circumstance happen more frequently.
[00:14:46] SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: And where do you think it leaves us? Should we just expect to see more cases like the Kyle Rittenhouse case or even the Ahmad Arbery case, as more people are armed and carrying weapons in public becomes even more normalized in the United States?
[00:14:59] ERIC RUBEN: Well, one thing I wouldn't be surprised to say is that if the trend continues that more and more people are carrying guns in public, and if the Supreme Court strikes down New York's law and makes it easier to carry a handgun in public, I think that that's going to put pressure on policy makers to take a really close look at the law of self-defense and to see whether or not the law of self-defense is calibrated for that environment. And if not, to see what sorts of changes to the law of self-defense might be made that could make it clear to the public when self-defense is permissible and maybe make it harder to succeed with the claim of self defense.
Kyle Rittenhouse, Ahmaud Arbery, and the Future of Right-Wing Vigilantism Part 1 - Intercepted with Jeremy Scahill - Air Date 11-24-21
[00:15:44] NAUSICCAA RENNER - HOST, INTERCEPTED: And what kind of institutional change do you think needs to happen in Wisconsin?
[00:15:49] GEORGE CHIDI: 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.
[00:18:05] RICHIE MCGINNISS: 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 his 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."
[00:18:41] 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.
[00:19:16] RICHIE MCGINNISS: 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.
[00:20:30] GEORGE CHIDI: [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, leapt 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.
“Why Are Ahmaud Arbery’s Killers So Scared?”: Self-Defense Claims by White Attackers Seen As Racist - Democracy Now! - Air Date 11-24-21
[00:23:18] AMY GOODMAN -HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: You recently wrote a piece entitled "Why are Ahmaud Arbery’s Killers So Scared?"
First, I want to go to the prosecutor, linda Dunikoski, during the trial questioning Travis McMichael.
[00:23:32] LINDA DUNIKOSKI: At this point in time, when you first see him on Burford, he is not reaching into his pockets?
[00:23:40] TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: No, ma’am. Not running, no ma’am.
[00:23:44] LINDA DUNIKOSKI: And he never yelled at you guys.
[00:23:49] TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: No, ma’am.
[00:23:51] LINDA DUNIKOSKI: Never threatened you at all.
[00:23:53] TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: No, ma’am. Not verbally.
[00:23:53] LINDA DUNIKOSKI: Never brandished any weapons?
[00:23:53] PERSON: Sorry, he was trying to finish his answer.
[00:23:53] TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: Yeah, he did not threaten me verbally. No, ma’am.
[00:23:53] LINDA DUNIKOSKI: All right. Didn’t brandish any weapons?
[00:23:57] TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: No, ma’am.
[00:23:58] LINDA DUNIKOSKI: Didn’t pull out any guns?
[00:24:00] TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: No, ma’am.
[00:24:00] LINDA DUNIKOSKI: Didn’t pull out any knife?
[00:24:02] TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: No, ma’am.
[00:24:03] LINDA DUNIKOSKI: Never reached for anything, did he?
[00:24:06] TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: No.
[00:24:07] LINDA DUNIKOSKI: He just ran.
[00:24:08] TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: Yes, he was just running.
[00:24:11] AMY GOODMAN -HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Clearly, a key moment in this trial. On Tuesday, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski delivered her closing argument.
[00:24:19] LINDA DUNIKOSKI: They started it. They do not get to claim self-defense. And then of course provocation; you can’t force someone to defend themselves against you, so you get to claim self-defense. This isn’t the Wild West.
[00:24:33] AMY GOODMAN -HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Nicole Lewis, again, this piece that you wrote, "Why are Ahmaud Arbery’s Killers So Scared?" Why do you think they are?
[00:24:44] NICOLE LEWIS: My central thesis for this piece is that, fear, on the one hand is, often, just a very convenient argument just to claim self-defense. “I was scared. I was scared for my life, so I had to take action.”
But at the same time, it is also, very clearly, a racist dog whistle. What I mean by that, is it sends a message to anyone watching, to white America, to say “You understand why I was so scared interacting with this young Black man.”
I quoted Travis McMichael, to say that “Ahmaud Arbery was overpowering me, and it was so clear that if I didn’t act, and if he got my gun, that he would kill me.”
We have no way of assessing Ahmaud Arbery’s intentions, no way of knowing if he would have taken that gun and shot Travis or just taken it to say, “Don’t shoot me.” No way of intoning what would have happened there. And yet the McMichaels claim that they were terrified, even though Ahmaud Arbery was outnumbered, even though he had been running for miles before the altercation.
And so I really wanted to shift the frame, and get us to try to think about Ahmaud’s fear. He is being hunted, stopped by a truck full of two white men with guns with Confederate license plates. He’s not sure what’s going to happen. It is a terrifying moment. It’s a terrifying end to somebody’s life.
But the McMichaels are the only ones who get to claim that they are scared. This is a defense that we see time and again from private citizens, as well as police officers, who have all stood trial for shooting unarmed Black people; that they were about to be overpowered, that they were scared, even though they provoked these incidents.
I think that is what the prosecutor was trying to get at; that you don’t get to create a situation in which someone has to defend themselves against you and then claim that you were terrified and had to act.
Kyle Rittenhouse, Ahmaud Arbery, and the Future of Right-Wing Vigilantism Part 2 - Intercepted with Jeremy Scahill - Air Date 11-24-21
[00:26:40] GEORGE CHIDI: 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.
[00:27:20] NAUSICCAA RENNER - HOST, INTERCEPTED: Because they were making a citizen’s arrest.
[00:27:22] GEORGE CHIDI: 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.
[00:27:38] TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: I shot him.
[00:27:40] DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Why?
[00:27:41] TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: 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.
[00:28:00] GEORGE CHIDI: But it’s not working.
[00:28:01] LINDA DUNIKOSKI: That’s three times he’s demonstrated to you that he does not want to talk to you, correct?
[00:28:04] TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: Yes.
[00:28:04] LINDA DUNIKOSKI: And he’s also demonstrated he’s no threat to you. He hasn’t pulled out a gun.
[00:28:08] TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: That’s correct.
[00:28:08] LINDA DUNIKOSKI: He hasn’t said one word to you.
[00:28:11] TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: He has not.
[00:28:11] LINDA DUNIKOSKI: He has not threatened you in any way, verbally or physically.
[00:28:14] TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: No, ma’am.
[00:28:15] GEORGE CHIDI: 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.
[00:29:34] NAUSICCAA RENNER - HOST, INTERCEPTED: 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.
[00:29:52] GEORGE CHIDI: 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 Rittenhouse 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."
Accountability For Arbery Killing Overcomes Local Politics - The Rachel Maddow Show - Air Date 11-24-21
[00:31:34] ALI VELSHI - GUEST HOST, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW: The NAACP released a statement today noting the generations of Black people in this country, dating back to its founding, back to emancipation, back to the first citizen's arrest law, generations of Black people who have endured losses like the Arbery family has without ever seeing anyone held accountable.
The generations of loss that have fueled protest after protest after protest, quote, "The verdict in the trial over the killing of Ahmaud Arbery is long overdue. Ahmaud Arbery's death was unnecessary and fueled by racist ideologies, deeply ingrained into the fabric of this nation. Generations of Black people have seen this time and time again, with the murder of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, and many others."
It went on to say that "the events surrounding Ahmaud's death reflect a growing and deepening rift in America, that will be its undoing if not addressed on a systemic level. We must fix what is genuinely harming our nation, white supremacy."
The White House also weighed in. Quote: "While the guilty verdicts reflect our justice system, doing its job, that alone is not enough." The administration vowed to do the hard work to ensure that "equal justice under law" is not just a phrase emblazoned in stone above the Supreme Court, but a reality for all Americans. And to be clear, the Biden Justice Department has been forceful on this issue. In April, the DOJ charged the three men who killed Arbery with federal hate crimes. They will be tried in federal court in February. That decision to federally indict those men was part of a string of DOJ actions to investigate the killing of Black citizens, like Breonna Taylor, like George Floyd.
In May, the DOJ decided to indict the officers involved in George Floyd's murder as well. Those officers were arraigned in September. They pled not guilty. Derek Chauvin's trial for murdering George Floyd was one of the few times in recent history that a white police officer was found guilty of killing a Black person. He was the first ever police officer to be convicted of killing a Black person in Minnesota.
But to many, it felt like a surprise, an exception, despite the wealth of video evidence of that crime. Earlier today, just after the Georgia jury asked the court if it could review video of Ahmaud Arbery's murder, one of the Arbery family's attorneys, Ben Crump, reflected on the killing of Brianna Taylor and George Floyd.
[00:33:50] BEN CRUMP: Thank God that there is video. We think about George Floyd and how consequential that video was. We pray that the video here will help them arrive at a just verdict. But Reverend Al, I can only think about all of the people, the marginalized people of color, who did not have video. I can only think of them, never ever having a chance at court.
And I don't want us to have this precedence where if minorities are killed by white people that we have this high standard, where we have to have a video to get justice. I'm thinking about Breonna Taylor, I'm thinking about so many others where there was no video.
[00:34:47] ALI VELSHI - GUEST HOST, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW: Ben Crump, trying to figure out if a precedent is set, where you have to have video to hold someone accountable for killing a Black person, just like it was for George Floyd. The video of Arbery's murder was pivotal in this case. No one was arrested until the video of Arbery's murder was released and circulated widely, which took more than two months after the killing. That video sparked nationwide protests and activism. It was a key piece of evidence in this trial. Like George Floyd, the video of Arbery's murder sparked a national outrage. People protesting throughout the summer of 2020 in the name of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and the countless other Black people who've been killed by white police and vigilantes.
An attorney representing one of the defendants in the Arbery murder trial seemed acutely aware of some of the similarities between this case and the murder of George Floyd. When protestors showed up outside the courtroom and Black pastors sat with the Arbery family inside the courtroom, the defense attorney tried seven times for a mistrial, solely based on the presence of Black people supporting the Arbery family. He tried over and over and over again. He failed every time.
During one of his Hail Mary attempts at a mistrial, he referenced the George Floyd murder trial, implying that the influence of Black protestors had an effect on the verdict. During his attempts to kick Black people out of the courtroom, he seemed increasingly worried that George Floyd's murder really had reignited a civil rights movement, and that his case might become part of that movement too.
Now seven months after a guilty verdict following George Floyd's murder, we have another guilty verdict, for these three men in Georgia who claimed to be arresting a fellow citizen.
What does it mean? Is this a turning point? Joining us now is Gwen Keyes Fleming, a former elected district attorney in DeKalb county, Georgia. Good to see you. Thank you for being with us, Ms. Keyes Fleming.
I want to ask you how you think about this verdict. Were the facts of the case so blatant that reasonable people would have expected that the defendants would be found guilty, or was this the case of a prosecution making a strong case and overcoming systemic bias in the system?
[00:36:56] GWEN KEYES FLEMING: I think it's a combination of both. And I'm glad to be here, thank you for having me this evening.
This is a case where, as you set it up in the beginning, this is a reckoning. Justice was served today. And I think it is telling that we are at the point in this country, that we have to recognize that through video we're able to see various things that heretofore have just been presented by various witnesses. Just having that video was so powerful.
And you'll notice the jury today asked to see it several times again, before coming back to their verdict. But I do think we have to be careful that it doesn't set a standard going forward, and we have to deal with the root causes of racism. And in this case in particular, there were overtones from jury selection all the way through closing argument. And it was really reprehensible. And so it's good to know that the jurors were not persuaded by all of that rhetoric and stayed true to the law and the facts as the prosecutor laid them out.
I think it has raised the awareness of the issues, but again, those are just examples of how the racial undertones and possibly the thoughts of the defendants were then carried on by their defense counsel. To be able to label and try to exclude only Black pastors when so many pastors were absolutely disgusted by these facts. That again is racial undertones. To strike so many qualified African-Americans from the jury. Again, the prosecutor started the trial. The judge even said that he thought there might've been intentional discrimination, but let's the case proceed.
All of these things are still evidence that there is systemic racism, that the system does not always work for African-Americans, and we need to get to the heart of it in order to be able to have a justice system that really works for everyone.
Three White Supremacy Trials: Dahlia Lithwick on Charlottesville, Rittenhouse & Arbery Murder Case - Democracy Now! - Air Date 11-18-21
[00:38:54] AMY GOODMAN -HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Jurors in Charlottesville, Virginia, are hearing closing arguments today in the civil trial that seeks to hold white supremacists accountable for organizing the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in 2017, and conspiring to commit racially motivated violence.
Several hundred white supremacists marched with tiki torches at the time across the University of Virginia, chanting “You will not replace us,” “Jews will not replace us,” and “White lives matter.” The next day, self-described neo-Nazi James Alex Fields slammed his car into a crowd of antiracist counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens more. He was sentenced to life in prison for murder and hate crimes and lost an appeal this week.
Two of the white supremacists have been defending themselves in the courtroom: Richard Spencer and Christopher Cantwell. They took the stand Tuesday and tried unsuccessfully to have the judge dismiss the case for lack of evidence, even as they used racial slurs during the trial.
When Cantwell cross-examined one of the witnesses, Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt, he asked her, quote, “There’s no such thing as an innocent antisemitic joke?”
After today’s closing arguments, jurors are expected to begin deliberations Friday.
For more, we’re joined by Dahlia Lithwick, Slate.com senior editor and senior legal correspondent. She’s been covering the trial, lived in Charlottesville during the Unite the Right rally.
Her recent piece is headlined “Why the Nazis Are Treating Their Trial in Charlottesville Like a Joke.”
Dahlia, welcome back to Democracy Now!
We’re in this key moment of three, one might argue, white supremacist trials. This one is a civil one, you’ve got Rittenhouse, and then you’ve got the case of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
But we’re going to start with Charlottesville.
[00:40:37] DAHLIA LITHWICK: So, one of the things I want to really note, is that this trial was not televised. In order to listen in, you have to call a 1-800 number that takes you into the courthouse. So, it actually has been a really fascinating study in how to cover Nazism without amplifying it.
Certainly some of the defendants who have been deplatformed have been going on one another’s podcasts, but one of the things that’s been really striking is the extent to which it has contained some of the worst rhetoric, the dropping of the N-word, the joking with one another about which Holocaust jokes are funny. All of that has been, kind of, hived off from public view.
And I think, in a sense, for me, one of the lessons of this is, how you can have accountability — and again, it will be left to the jury, starting this afternoon when they begin to deliberate, if they want to have accountability — but to have accountability without amplifying the really hateful, hurtful message.
I think it’s been a really powerful lesson in how you do that; how you don’t, in some sense, give attention to the worst elements of this.
[00:41:47] AMY GOODMAN -HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Very quickly, before we move on to the Rittenhouse homicide trial, the murder trial, explain how this case is different. They are not on trial, for example, for killing Heather Heyer. This is a civil trial. They’re not going to go to jail. So, what is the point? Who are the plaintiffs that brought this?
[00:42:08] DAHLIA LITHWICK: The plaintiffs were nine people who were injured in the events of August 11th and 12th in Charlottesville. And it’s a civil trial, in some sense, because the Trump Justice Department didn’t stand up, and didn’t in any way attempt to bring to justice the folks who were involved in organizing and performing this rally.
And so, I think that the plaintiffs in this case-- and they’re led by really masterful attorneys, Robbie Kaplan and Karen Dunn and their teams-- what they essentially said was, “We will be the stand-in for the DOJ. We will bring a civil rights action that says if you, based on racial animus, deprive people of their civil rights” — this is rooted in the KKK Act, a 150-year-old statute — “we will effectuate your rights in a civil trial.”
Can You Bankrupt White Supremacy? Jury Holds Charlottesville Organizers Liable for $26M in Damages - Democracy Now! - Air Date 11-24-21
[00:42:59] AMY GOODMAN -HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: A federal jury in Virginia has ordered a group of white supremacists to pay over $26 million in damages for their role in organizing the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
The jury found the organizers guilty of violating a Virginia state conspiracy law, but jurors deadlocked on two federal conspiracy charges, including violating the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act.
In August 2017, several hundred white supremacists marched with tiki torches across the University of Virginia, chanting “You will not replace us,” “Jews will not replace us,” and “White lives Matter.” The next day, self-described neo-Nazi James Alex Fields slammed his car into a crowd of antiracist counterprotestors, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others.
On Tuesday, Fields, who is already serving a life sentence, was ordered to pay $12 million in punitive damages. Prominent white supremacists Richard Spencer, Jason Kessler and Christopher Cantwell and eight other defendants were also ordered to each pay over half a million dollars in punitive damages.
While it is unclear how much money the men will actually pay, many observers are crediting the civil lawsuit with helping to bankrupt numerous far-right institutions.
We are joined now by Nicole Lewis, Senior Editor of Jurisprudence at Slate. Nicole, welcome to Democracy Now!
In a moment we are also going to go to Georgia with you to talk about the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial, but right now, talk about the significance of this civil suit, of the jury finding these men guilty, and what $26 million means.
[00:44:47] NICOLE LEWIS: The lawyers for the plaintiffs said that this judgment, this amount of money, really sends a message to other people who might think that they want to show up and commit violent acts in cities; that they can’t get away with it, that they won’t get off scot-free, that there will be some repercussions.
Twenty-six million dollars is a lot of money, but there is a big question about "Will these defendants be able to pay it?" Chris Cantwell and James Fields are already incarcerated, so they are not earning a ton of money. Many of the other defendants are already destitute from all of the pre-investigation leading into this trial, the fact that they are not able to work, that they are now publicly known as white supremacists, and neo-Nazis, who are unemployable in a lot of industries and institutions.
So, I think there is just this big outstanding question of "How much money will they actually be able to come up with and what strategies do they have to be able to extract money from these folks?" —liens on houses, garnishing wages, things like that.
But I think the bigger picture here is that, they came into Charlottesville with the intention to create and start a race war. And that the criminal justice system hasn’t found any liability. But in a civil system we say, “You cannot get away with this.”
[00:46:03] JUAN GONZALEZ: In terms of the organizations that these men belong to, many of them are either going to declare bankruptcy and then reorganize under other names, or what is your sense of what has happened to the organizations?
[00:46:17] NICOLE LEWIS: That’s an excellent question. I think it’s the question that we are all grappling with, or dealing with, to say, "Is bankrupting these organizations, is bankrupting these individuals enough to actually stop the growing threat, the rising threat, of white supremacy and Nazism in the United States?"
We know that there are a number of young men who feel disaffected and displaced, and they’re gathering every day in chat rooms to share ideas, to commiserate, to strategize.
So there is a high likelihood that the organizations that exist now become defunct, they turn over whatever assets they may have on hand, and then new organizations are started, and new people come together in chat rooms to plan for this kind of thing.
So I think it is just the open question of we don’t yet know.
I think it is important to point out that this was the strategy used to try to take down the Ku Klux Klan in the Jim Crow era, and through the Civil Rights Movement. There was some effectiveness there, but again, looking back in time, and moving forward, we see that one hateful group, one white supremacist group just morphed into new factions and new iterations of the same ideology.
Is bankrupting them actually truly enough to stamp out hate? I don’t think so. I think there are many people who study hate and extremism who know just how extraordinary the threat is, and that financial damages just simply won’t be enough to do that.
[00:47:49] JUAN GONZALEZ: In October, You co-wrote a piece with Dahlia Lithwick titled "Three Trials in America: The conversations playing out in courtrooms in Kenosha, Charlottesville, and Georgia are revealing." What do you find revealing, and the connections between all three of these?
[00:48:08] NICOLE LEWIS: Every few years we get a series of cases that people look to, to say, "Will the ruling, will the outcome here finally be an indication that we have made progress in terms of race and racial relations and racial justice?"
The case in Kenosha, the case in Georgia, the Charlottesville case, I really don’t think you could get three bigger and more significant cases.
One, Charlottesville, about the rise of extremism, Nazism, our First Amendment rights. What right do you have actually to create violence in public spaces?
The trial in Kenosha, about whether or not the Second Amendment, our gun rights, are more important than our ability to peaceably assemble.
Then we have the case in Georgia, that really reflects this long legacy of racial violence in the South. The three defendants are white. Ahmaud Arbery, the young unarmed jogger was Black.
So they just encapsulate all these different components, all these different issues happening in our country right now.
What Dahlia and I were trying to point out, is that the criminal justice system, even the civil system–the Charlottesville case is not a criminal case—is simply just ill-equipped to deal with these extraordinary questions of race. It is the same system that disproportionately sends Black and Latino men to prison at extraordinary rates.
So when we bring white defendants into the system, and ask it to litigate, and say, “Let’s find justice here,” many of us watching know that it won’t be able to do that.
I think the Rittenhouse verdict for many was devastating for that reason. People did not expect that he would be treated the way that he was, that he would be acquitted.
There is another component here: when Dahlia and I watched the jury selection in many of these cases, we could not help but notice just how much the defense attorneys in particular treated racism like an open question. Any juror who believed that racism is real, that Black Lives Matter is not a terrorist organization, that in fact it emerged in response to state-sanctioned violence against Black people; anyone who believed those things to be true was struck from the jury. It was read as somehow not being neutral and not being objective, of not having an open mind, when we know that these are settled and established facts.
So I think we just saw the extraordinary limitation here, to say, “What can we do if the jury pool is now comprised of people whose minds are not made up about Nazism, whose minds are not made up about the horrors, the violence and the evil of white supremacy?”
That’s just another extraordinary limitation, and something that we saw, a thread throughout all three trials.
Here’s The Thing About Rittenhouse, Confederate Statues And Journalism... - The Majority Report w/ Sam Seder - Air Date 11-25-21
[00:51:07] SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: I don't know how the interpretation of what Kyle Rittenhouse did will impact our history in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, or our future, I should say.
But we certainly have examples from Reconstruction and so on, and putting up those statues in the 1920s, as to what it does to our present day. We can't know. You begin to understand when you talk to a historian like that, the implication of journalism, of narrative building, of all those things in the moment. And who knows what any -- given one of those events in the reporting -- if it would have had, what kind of influence it would have had. You can't really disentangle all those things.
But largely the lesson is it's important to make sure that events that are happening are interpreted and are reported in a way that is not a lie. Because that lie can actually have a lot more durability and impact than you probably anticipated.
Can you imagine? What would the difference had been if YouTube existed during Reconstruction?
[00:52:26] MATT LECH: Yeah, we live in a country where in the 1830s, 20s, there was legislation punishing people for teaching slaves to read, right? And we live in this as new, these revisions of history, like he's talking about, that's like the seventies. But even then you have new information technology that makes it easier to spread this stuff. So that's why you have the PC freakouts to this critical race theory freak out.
[00:52:49] SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: That's an important point that people should understand. It is only because of people's work, like Foner and to others in the seventies and late sixties in the seventies that we have access to this information now and this understanding of our history and our understanding of why were all these Confederate statues all over the place? And why were they put up in 1920? 50 years after the war?
And the reason why you're seeing such pushback to critical race theory, and it's obviously not critical race theory that's being taught there, but you may get more history, more explicit history, maybe history of Reconstruction in some of these schools, but also just an awareness of that dynamic that going on in this country. I would love it if they teach critical race theory in schools, or some derivation, and maybe they will. But the reason why there's a pushback on it is, again, for the same reason: you need to obscure the dynamics that are going on in our society.
Self-Defense After Rittenhouse, Calls to Drop Murder Charges Against Black Teen Chrystul Kizer - Democracy Now! - Air Date 11-29-21
[00:53:46] AMY GOODMAN -HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: After Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted earlier this month on all five charges he faced from fatally shooting two people and wounding a third during racial justice protests last year in Kenosha, Wisconsin, another Kenosha case with a claim of self-defense is drawing renewed attention. Human rights advocates are calling for charges to be dropped against Black teenager Chrystul Kizer, who is accused of killing her white sex trafficker in 2018. She was 17 at the time. He had abused her since she was 16.
Court records show Kenosha Police knew the man, Randall Volar, had a history of sexually abusing underage Black girls and was actually under investigation for sex trafficking but he remained free for months. Kizer says she shot and killed Volar in self-defense after he drugged her and tried to rape her. A Kenosha County judge ruled in 2019 that Kizer could not use the self-defense argument but an appellate court reversed the decision and ruled Kizer can argue her actions resulted from being trafficked. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is now reviewing the decision. As her case is pending, Chrystul Kizer was released from jail last year after the Chicago Community Bond Fund and other supporters raised money to post her $400,000 bond.
For more, we go to two guests. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we are joined by David Bowen, Wisconsin state representative running for lieutenant governor, has called for justice in this case. And Anne Branigin, reporter for The Lily at The Washington Post whose latest piece she co-wrote headlined, After Rittenhouse, protesters are asking: What about sex-trafficking victim Chrystul Kizer?. Why don’t we begin with Anne Branigin? Just lay out the facts of this case.
[00:55:32] ANNE BRANIGAN: You are exactly right, this was somebody who was already under investigation for being a child abuser at the time that she killed him. She is now arguing that her crime was a direct result of her status as a victim of trafficking and what she is trying to invoke is a very specific defense. It’s called the affirmative defense and it was made specifically for trafficking victims. The thinking is that their crime is a direct result of that status of being abused or coerced or forced into doing a crime. What is unique about her case is that this is the first time that we are seeing this argument being applied to a homicide charge. She is somebody who has been waiting for trial now for more than two years because this argument has to be decided before the case goes to trial. She killed Volar in 2018 and we are now in 2021 still seeing where the case will go.
[00:56:36] AMY GOODMAN -HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Can you talk about the role of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Chrystul’s trial?
[00:56:41] ANNE BRANIGAN: Absolutely. They really play a pivotal role. Right now they are deciding whether or not she has access to the affirmative defense as an argument, as a legal remedy. It has never been applied to a case, to a violent crime before, so it has huge ramifications for her but it also has a huge potential impact for other victims of trafficking because this can really dictate in the state of Wisconsin and possibly outside whether or not, if you kill your abuser, whether you can claim affirmative defense, whether you can say that this is a direct result of the abuse that I experienced.
[00:57:24] AMY GOODMAN -HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: David Bowen, I want to bring you into this conversation, Wisconsin state representative, why you are spearheading attention on this case. She in fact has been convicted already, but given the Kyle Rittenhouse case, we see a lot of new attention on this case. The police released him even as they knew that he had been sex trafficking and preying on young Black girls. Can you describe further what happened?
[00:57:57] REP. DAVID BOWEN: It shows further exacerbation of the situation and the lack of the outcry that you have seen many folks get behind Kyle Rittenhouse and his use of self-defense. He is saying because of his case it shows that self-defense is not illegal, yet what we are crying for out in the streets, out in the community, all over the state with those of us who stand for justice is to say we have a very clear case but we are not receiving the same support, the same outcry from folks who got behind Kyle Rittenhouse, to defend this young Black woman in a very clear situation where there was ongoing abuse and where she was trying to defend herself to get out of the sex trafficking she was being abused with. Yet she is being treated as if it was just premeditated murder and she should not have the right to be able to escape.
[00:58:58] AMY GOODMAN -HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Explain where it stands in the courts. Explain her trial and how this has changed over time.
[00:59:11] REP. DAVID BOWEN: This is coming at a very polarizing time in our state. This case, as you have seen in Wisconsin and many communities in Wisconsin become hubs of sex trafficking and training for very young sex trafficking victims. You’ve seen this case become one of the primary reasons why we need to ensure that victims are treated as victims throughout our justice system. So we have called for that. We have even tried to clarify state statute under my leadership in the legislature where I have gone to conservative colleagues to build bridges and to make sure that we could clarify in state statute the defenses that should be there more clearly for victims. I did not get the same amount of cooperation. We did get some folks on the conservative side to join us in that but not nearly enough to get that bill passed.
That was even used and highlighted in her case where the prosecution was trying to deny Chrystul Kizer’s defense of using state statute to protect her and that the clarification that we were advocating for at the time would not be passed. But this essentially still is an issue where we have a few folks on the conservative side to join us and we need a lot more. We need the same outpouring of support that clearly was given for Kyle Rittenhouse.
[01:00:44] AMY GOODMAN -HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: To be clear, there has not been a trial yet. She is awaiting trial as they clarify what the charges would be. She has not contested that she killed this man but said she did it in self-defense. I was wondering if you can comment, State Representative David Bowen, on the statistics in Kenosha. You have in this city of Kyle Rittenhouse, the city that sentences and incarcerates Black residents who make up 42% of the state prison population but only make up 6% of the state population according to The Sentencing Project, the highest rate in the country. How does Chrystul Kizer represent this disparity in the legal system?
[01:01:36] REP. DAVID BOWEN: Absolutely. You are seeing this injustice across the state as you have the over-incarceration, over-criminalization of communities of color especially in our most diverse areas of the state. Kenosha is no different. You clearly see how much you can have a disparity in the system when a judge in the Kyle Rittenhouse case can act so favorably and lighthearted on a very serious topic to defend a young white man but when it comes to the system trying to provide grace, trying to provide certainty for a young Black woman, how the difference in treatment happens. That is what justice advocates are calling for. We are calling for that to change, and that we can’t have this double standard.
Obviously, you have a number of individuals that claim to support Kyle Rittenhouse yet they are refusing to acknowledge the fact that if a young Black person, a young person of color, period, is facing the same fate and situation, you have an over-effort to try to keep that person incarcerated, to take that person away from their community and to not give them the same grace, the same insight of them acting in their own self-interest. It is so clear that Chrystul was a victim in this case, yet she is being continually treated as a murderer. And she is not.
[01:03:17] AMY GOODMAN -HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Has there been an investigation into the Kenosha Police Department for how they treated this sex trafficker who they themselves had identified because girls, young teenagers had come forward and talked about what he had done? They took him into custody and released him on the same day and said they were investigating him at the time when Chrystul admits that she killed him.
[01:03:48] REP. DAVID BOWEN: Exactly, exactly. You also had the prosecution in this case try to keep those facts out of the case. It is so important that we recognize that in the situation, we are talking about a proven history of abuse, a proven history of trafficking and that this situation with Chrystul where she was a minor in the situation not being given the same level of outcry to say that her life matters enough that as a victim, as she’s going through the system, that she is treated in a way where she is a victim and not a premeditated murderer. I cannot stress that enough.
And to focus here on the fact that in Wisconsin, we are seeing cases like this on different levels is also why we are calling for the best practices to be used with our police departments. We want to make sure everybody gets home at the end of the day and that no officer can be judge, jury, and allow the system to be accountable. But it is very clear in the interactions that Chrystul and so many other likely young Black girls are experiencing, they are being treated as less. They are being treated as less than, as they are advocating for help, as they are trying to hold individuals accountable who at that time, they are holding a grown man accountable. And our police departments right there in Kenosha did not live up to their duty to protect and serve.
[01:05:30] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with In the Thick discussing the obvious difference in how a Black kid would have been treated in Kyle Rittenhouse's shoes. Today, Explained dove into the self-defense defense. Intercepted looked at solutions to prevent the menacing of protesters with guns. Democracy Now! asked why Ahmaud Arbery's attackers were so scared. Intercepted explained that a guilty verdict in the Ahmaud Arbery case will act as a fig leaf for the system. The Rachel Maddow Show discussed the Arbery verdict. Democracy Now! looked at how the civil suit trial against Unite the Right was held without amplifying the message of the white supremacist defendants. And Democracy Now! also discussed the impact of the $26 million verdict against the Unite the Right Nazis.
That's what everyone heard, but members also heard bonus clips, including The Majority Report discussing the dynamics of society through the lens of the Rittenhouse trial. And Democracy Now! highlighting another case of self-defense given new life by the Rittenhouse verdict. To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly into your new members-only podcast feed that you will receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support or request a financial hardship membership, because we don't make a lack of funds a barrier to hearing more information. Every request is granted. No questions asked.
And now, we'll hear from you.
Surviving to turn the tide - Eric from Portland
[01:06:56] VOICEMAILER: ERIC FROM PORTLAND: Hi, this is Eric from Portland, and I'm calling in reference to episode #1457 about authoritarianism. So I have one question and I'd like to set the table for a little bit, because it's something I've been trying to wrap my mind around for at least a few years now. So I think the episode did a good job describing about how, well, there's a lot of powerful structures in place that support right-wing ideology. That comes down to everything from the courts to the outsized influence of gerrymandering on the right. Raw money in terms of just what's supported in the media. I see that as being opposite our cultural shifts.
So whenever I look at trends and major polls, it seems overwhelmingly that our society, that is the United States, has moved more towards a culture of acceptance, and that we're more open to economic reform, culturally. And these are the two forces I see in conflict. So sometimes I think that, while it's nice to get victories in the short term, that we're trying to survive for long enough to see our culture have more influence, and I'm not sure if that's practical or not, and if it would, by what mechanisms it would occur.
So I would love to know what you think about it, really. Do you think that we're trying to survive long enough to turn this tide? And if so, how are we doing? Because it seems as of late with the shifts that have happened in government and some of the more brazen attacks by the right wing that are violent in nature, that things are coming to a head, and I don't see a powerful enough opposition to that. Certainly not in a militant way, but just in terms of being able to turn that tide, it always seems so far out.
I guess I would put it to you this way Jay!, if you're going to give us an assessment and how we're doing in terms of turning that tide and surviving long enough to really make it stick with establishing power structures on the left, how's that going? I value your opinion on this because honestly you live in this world and I only get to visit it once in a while. So I'm all ears. And thanks just for listening.
Final comments on the status of our government responsiveness to public sentiment
[01:09:15] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Thanks to all those who called into the voicemail line or wrote in their messages to be played as VoicedMails. If you'd like to leave a comment or question of your own to be played on the show, you can record a message at (202) 999-3991, or write me a message to [email protected]. So thanks to Eric for calling in, asking about how we're doing. I'm interpreting his question basically as, "how are we doing in turning the tide toward keeping policy in line with public sentiment?" And I will start with some thoughts on a philosophy of governing, for context.
So the slow nature of politics to lag society, to lag public sentiment is normal. And frankly, this is not something progressives say very often, but it can be good. Positive change, like change that you and I listening would very likely think is good and probably overdue, when it happens too fast, which is not something that we would generally think, but when it happens too fast for society, it can be implemented poorly, and so then we don't get the results we want. Or it could cause a backlash effect, which it usually will. Any progressive, forward-thinking change is going to cause some sort of backlash effect, but it could be stronger, it could be weaker. And if things go really badly, then that progressive change that gets implemented could actually be overturned, so it has less staying power over time.
So politics is always going to be behind public sentiment, and that's not a huge problem we should be concerned about. It's just sort of baked into the system and might even be good in relation to human nature. As we have seen with the pandemic, we quickly had a change in how we were all allowed to act and interact in society, and that caused a whole lot of stress and people didn't like that. So big changes over short periods of time cause stress, people being stressed is bad. So even though we want, as progressives, maybe large systemic change, there is some wisdom behind implementing such change slowly. So the fact that the government works a little slower than people in public sentiment is maybe not that bad of a thing.
As I have discussed recently public and personal sentiment, it turns out, tends to move, over time, toward the progressive. And this goes against the folk wisdom that people get more conservative with age. It turns out people actually get more progressive with age just slower than the rest of society. So society will probably catch up with all of us and surpass us at some point, even if we continue to get more progressive as we age until our dying day.
So with that dynamic as the background, it's normal for both progressives on the leading edge and conservatives on the trailing edge of public sentiment to be outside the mainstream, wanting to implement policies that not many people want. Progressives, for instance, were in favor of same-sex marriage and universal healthcare long before the general public caught up with that, and now they have caught up. Conservatives on the trailing edge still oppose those even though a majority are in favor.
On top of that, you got to take into consideration the role of money in politics, and I've been persuaded by the analysis I first heard put forward by Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks years and years ago, who explained that the dividing line between policies we can get implemented and those we can't aren't a divided so much along the ideological line as they are by the moneyed interest line. So universal healthcare is an existential threat to for-profit health insurance companies, so they fight against that policy tooth and nail. Same-sex marriage isn't really a threat to any financial interest, and so once the meager objections on religious moral grounds were overcome by the majority of people, it was hardly even controversial when the Supreme Court finally made same-sex marriage rights the law of the land.
So that's the status quo in our society. Politics will always lag far behind progressives and will usually lag behind majority sentiment, and all of that will be complicated by the influence of moneied interest to preserve their money. In normal times that could be the end of my answer to Eric's question, " well, public sentiment is going one way and politics aren't keeping up. Yeah, welcome to democracy, that's just how things work," but these are not normal times because of the confluence of a few factors that are coming to a head, as Eric pointed out.
Minority rule is the buzz word of the past few years, not because it's brand new, but because it's partisan in a way that it never was before. So right now state legislatures and the US House of Representatives are being deeply impacted by gerrymandering that was put in place in 2010 to allow minority rule in many states. The US Senate was explicitly designed to give power to the minority. The filibuster was explicitly designed to give power to the minority. The electoral college was explicitly designed to ignore majority sentiment and give more power to the minority. And of course the justices of the Supreme Court are chosen by presidents, which are chosen through the electoral college.
Now none of this is new. For instance gerrymandering, which should probably be pronounced gary-mandering, was named after Elbridge Gary, who was around in Massachusetts in the 1700s. So gerrymandering, or garymandering, isn't new, but it never benefited one party so dramatically over the other, that's new. Before the ideological realignment of the parties back in the 60s and 70s there was always a mix of progressive and conservative ideas in both parties. So conservative Dixiecrats in the south opposed FDRs New Deal, but progressive Republicans from the Northeast supported it. The realignment around race in the wake of the civil rights movement means that now essentially all progressive leaning ideas come from the Democratic side and all conservative instincts reside in the Republican side. Note that I didn't say conservative ideas because they sort of gave up on having ideas awhile back in favor of just opposing liberal ideas as their platform. And so it was that realignment, which led to the era of hyper-partisanship we live in today, and in the scenario, with such a stark dividing line, there's not going to be much movement between the parties. And so if they're not perfectly balanced 50/50, which they're not, then one party is inevitably going to end up being the permanent minority party, and one will end up being the permanent majority of party until there's another major realignment.
In our case, the Republicans find themselves in what would be permanent minority status if not for several structural elements of our system that continue to give them a fighting chance. And since around 2010, aside from tax cuts, abortion restrictions, and discrimination based on gender identity, the only major policy pushes coming from Republicans have been toward shoring up those structural advantages that they already have in the system, and adding racially targeted voting restrictions, again, something that wouldn't have explicitly helped one party over the other before the realignment around race. All of this done to stave off that permanent minority status they know they would have if all things were fair and equal.
And this isn't an all or nothing kind of thing, they've been making slow progress for over a decade on this project. So while public sentiment has been moving along at its regular pace, marching slowly towards progressivism, Republicans have been able to slow down the government's response to that public sentiment beyond the normal lag that we should always expect. And what all of this leads to is disillusionment in government and a reduction in its actual legitimacy. I mean, if a democratic government isn't responding to the will of the people, it's pretty natural for people to stop believing in it. Then governments only exist because people believe in them. And when people stop believing in their government it fosters anger and resentment. And since we already have one party boiling over with anger and resentment over a sort of cultish delusion of a lack of legitimacy over the 2020 election, if the other side gets similarly angry over an entrenched minority rule, should that come to pass, we could be in for a real bad time.
So to answer Eric's question, how are we doing?, considering the state of the Supreme Court, the Senate, the new round of gerrymandering being directed by Republican state legislators as we speak, and the moderate Democrats refusal to abolish the filibuster in order to pass reforms to reverse any of these trends, things are not great. And as I suggested with the title of that episode on authoritarianism, they are likely to get worse before they get better.
The nearly sole reason to hold out hope is that inexorable march of public sentiment. We won't just end up going backward forever because people are going to keep moving forward in their sentiments. That will create a tension that cannot be maintained indefinitely. It is the point at which that tension breaks that I'm worried about. So to me, abolishing the filibuster and banning partisan gerrymandering sounds much less stressful than whatever would come if we allow this pattern to continue to the breaking point.
As always keep the comments coming in at (202) 999-3991 or by emailing me to [email protected]. That's going to be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio Ben, Ken, and Scott for their volunteer work, helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support, through our Patreon, or from right inside the Apple Podcasts app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content and no ads in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player.
So coming to from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay!, and this has been the Best of the Left Podcast coming to twice weekly thanks entirely to the members and donors of the show from bestoftheleft.com.