The System is Not Broken

I respect the decisions of the jurors in the Rittenhouse trial. The jury reached a verdict, but the process was flawed: the Judge was not impartial, which led in part to this outcome. He telegraphed from the onset, by way of his rulings, his racist statements about Asians, his inappropriate physical closeness to the defendant, and his conspicuous belief the defendant was innocent, We saw so many examples of actions by Judge Schroeder that communicated to the jury his support for the defendant, including having him in such a close proximity. This is highly unusual, and in 16 years as a prosecutor, I have NEVER seen this happen — it has certainly never happens with Black and Brown defendants. It raises issues of race, equality, and of judicial impartiality.

These not so subtle messages impact justice and verdicts. Judge Schroeder left any premise of impartiality at the courtroom door. 

That said, I see much deeper implications for the rule of law, race, equity, and justice in our country. Every day, defense attorneys nationwide fight to get their clients of color the same level of respect and dignity this defendant received in his trial. Prosecutors fight for  victims of color to be heard and respected. Kyle Rittenhouse blatantly benefitted from white privilege while many others in the system that are Black and Brown must overcome so much more just to be treated with a modicum of the decency they deserve, in a country that believes in the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.”

To me this case is just another example of systemic racism in our country. And it is a case that connects so many concerns —the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McCain, and the subsequent uprisings in the aftermath last summer. The procedural concerns impact, and further destroy,  the trust of some Americans in our criminal justice system. We are reminded of other cases in history including the violence the Freedom Riders, and others, faced during the first Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s where perpetrators of violence were not held accountable. 

This case also raises issues surrounding who can, and cannot, exercise their First and Second Amendment rights. It infringes on the true use and meaning of “self defense,” and renews concerns regarding the application of ‘Stand Your Ground” as well as vigilantism. Perception is reality — and if people do not perceive the system to be fair, less people will report crimes, testify in trials, or respect the rule of law.

Judges are an elected to office. Schroeder is the longest-serving circuit judge in Wisconsin. He was first appointed in 1983 and has continuously won election since, often running unopposed. Free and fair elections are the backbone of democracy, and that includes having a choice of who sits on the bench.

I’ll conclude this message with a challenge: get involved in democracy in your community. Vote all the way down the ballot, without skipping judicial races and other less discussed races. Join or start a CourtWatch program to learn about your local judges. Help build a bench: get to know stakeholders in your community and recruit and encourage them to run for office. Get involved. Mobilize. Most importantly, whatever you do – do not sit quietly on the sidelines. Do not accept the status quo. Stay vigilant, never complacent..

 If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” — Archbishop Desmond Tutu

We stand in solidarity with those who are hurting today. I hope you will join me in the fight for our democracy, and to push forward equality for all in the legal system in this country.
 

Though we strobed
That we came in peace
He was already at war.
We have battled hard to be.
Nothing —
Nothing —
Can keep you safe.
Silence least of all.
Look alive, everyone.
May such a prayer,
A people,
A peace,
A promise,
Be outs.
Be right
& radiant
& real.
— Amanda Gorman

In solidarity & sadness,

M.

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