Rex Huppke: Jacob Blake, Kyle Rittenhouse and Kenosha’s vivid example of American racism
Sat., Aug. 29, 2020
Jacob Blake didn’t kill anyone. He was shot seven times in the back by a police officer.
Kyle Rittenhouse is charged with first-degree intentional homicide following a shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that left two protesters dead. He walked up to police officers after the shooting carrying an assault-style rifle and wasn’t even apprehended, much less shot.
Blake is Black. Rittenhouse is white. That distills what’s happening in our convulsing nation down to its bare essence.
The fundamental unfairness of those linked tragedies in one Wisconsin city over the course of three days should be enough for even the most stubborn of white Americans to understand why people are marching to assert and rightfully demand that Black lives matter. The clear-as-glass unfairness of it all should be enough.
It won’t be.
So I’m going to write some things I shouldn’t have to write:
I don’t believe a Black man should be shot seven times in the back by a cop. I don’t believe any person should be shot seven times in the back by a cop.
I don’t believe Jacob Blake would have been shot seven times in the back by a cop if he was a white man. Not a chance.
I don’t care if Jacob Blake had, as the Wisconsin Department of Justice reported Wednesday, a knife in his vehicle. Blake opened the driver’s side door and was leaning in when the officer shot him seven times in the back. That’s neither self-defense nor justice – it’s nearly an execution.
If the person leaning into that vehicle was Kyle Rittenhouse and if the teenager had a knife in the vehicle, I don’t believe for a second that police officer would have shot him seven times in the back. If white people were honest with themselves, they would, to a person, agree.
I don’t believe a 17-year-old like Rittenhouse should have access to an assault-style rifle.
I don’t believe police officers should simply look the other way when they see a white person carrying an assault-style rifle in public.
I don’t believe militias or hate groups should be able to use a social media platform like Facebook to radicalize teenagers like Rittenhouse. I don’t believe the American public has even begun to grasp the threat right-wing militias pose.
I don’t believe peaceful protesters should be defined by the actions of those responsible for looting, setting fires and destroying property. I don’t believe President Donald Trump or his allies at Fox News will do a thing to make a distinction between the two, because they benefit from videos of looting and destruction.
As a white man, I don’t believe for a moment I can grasp what Black people in America are feeling right now.
I don’t believe I’ll ever worry about being shot by a police officer. I don’t believe I’ll ever worry about my children being shot by a police officer.
So I don’t believe it’s my place, in any way, shape or form, to weigh in on how Black people or people of color react after seeing Jacob Blake shot seven times in the back by a cop. Or after seeing George Floyd killed on the street under the knee of a white officer.
I don’t believe I’ll ever feel that fear or that anger or that helplessness. So I’m not about to tell fellow Americans whose experiences I can’t know how they should or shouldn’t protest. Or how their righteous anger should be expressed.
I don’t believe white Americans should be doing anything but looking closely and honestly and humbly at the source of the pain and anger and frustration behind these protests, and trying to help find a solution.
I don’t believe what I’m writing here will change the minds or hearts of the subset of white America that snarls at Black Lives Matter protesters while shrugging off people like Rittenhouse as “a good kid who lost his way.”
I don’t believe I’ll stop trying.
I do believe Kyle Rittenhouse deserves a fair trial and a chance to defend himself.
I don’t believe those same rights were afforded Jacob Blake before a cop sentenced him to seven shots in the back.
And that, right there, is the horrible heart of the problem.
Rex Huppke is a Chicago Tribune columnist. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.
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