The White Man’s Justice System
A jury acquitted 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse on all charges on November 19th, 2021. Rittenhouse was armed with an AR-15 style rifle last year on Aug. 25, 2020, during a protest over the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Blake was a Black man who was left paralyzed after the shooting which sparked civil unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse drove to the protest with his rifle as a way of taking matters into his own hands.
However, Rittenhouse’s story is not entirely about Blake. It is about the fact that he shot and killed two protestors, Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26. A third person, Gaige Grosskreutz, was also shot, but he was left injured. The first two victims were not armed but used a plastic bag and skateboard, respectively, as self-defense. However, Grosskreutz was the only one that was armed, and aimed his gun at Rittenhouse after the first two crimes were committed.
Rittenhouse was acquitted on all charges leaving him as a person who got away with murder. Many people are not shocked about the verdict, with many saying that the justice system has always been built this way: built for the white man.
There are many cases where Black men and women have been charged with a crime that they did not commit or less serious than murder but have had to face severe punishment. Here are times when the justice system has failed Black people and incarcerated them unjustly.
Central Park Five
This is a case that was given a lot of attention in 2019 when the Netflix mini-series “When They See Us” was released retelling the story of the Central Park Five. In 1989, then-teenagers Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, and Yusef Salaam were taken into custody for raping and assaulting a white female jogger by the name of Trisha Melli. Melli was not killed, but when she woke up, she had no memory of the assault. However, during the interrogation phase of this case, the teenagers were coerced into a false confession. Police officers and detectives interrogated the boys for hours on end with no lawyer or parent/guardian present. They were also denied food and sleep for many hours which made them more vulnerable.
All five of the boys spent years in prison for a crime they did not commit, maintaining their innocence throughout their time. It was not until Matias Reyes confessed in 2002 that he committed the rape and assault on Melli that they were exonerated.
For more details on their story, I highly suggest watching “When They See Us.” The show brings into perspective how unjust the justice system was to these boys who should have never been in jail in the first place.
On November 27, 2001, Termaine Hicks called police after he aided a woman in the alleyway who was screaming because she was getting raped. The police arrived on the scene, assumed Hicks was the rapist and shot him in the back three times. The police realized Hicks did not match his description and instead of owning up to their mistake, they decided to proceed in a cover-up. They lied under oath and said that Hicks pulled a gun and lunged at the officers which led to the shooting. However, Hicks was unarmed the entire time. Hicks was sentenced to prison for rape, assault, and possession of a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to 12 ½ to 25 years.
Hicks was released from prison in 2020, spending 19 years of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit.
Details of his case are found here on the Innocence Project Website: https://innocenceproject.org/termaine-hicks-shot-in-the-back-by-philadelphia-police-is-exonerated-after-19-year-cover-up/
In 2019, Allen Russell was arrested after a police raid in his Mississippi home discovered 43 grams of marijuana. Russell was sentenced to life without eligibility for parole. The main reason he was sentenced to life was due to past convictions from years ago that were not related to this drug charge, however, the court determined that Russell was a felon who would not stop committing crimes. So, Russell is now going to stay behind bars for the rest of his life because of 43 grams of marijuana.
This is an outrage for many people with there being petitions to bring awareness to Russell’s case. In the age of marijuana legalization in many states, and with there being a more open-minded attitude towards the drug in popular culture, one would not think someone would be serving a life sentence for marijuana possession. However, according to the ACLU, Black people are 3.64 times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession than white people. There are still Black people who are in jail for marijuana possession as well. This raises a discussion that if someone can get a life sentence for marijuana possession, then how could Rittenhouse be a free man despite killing two people?
These three cases are just a few out of several accounts of Black people getting incarcerated for either a crime they did not commit, or for committing a small crime but serving a severe sentence. Recently, President Joe Biden commented on the Rittenhouse trial and said that the jury and justice system works. But how can one say that despite so many Black people getting failed by this system? The justice system failed the Central Park Five, it failed Termaine Hicks and Allen Russell.
The justice system is and has always been broken.