The last 24 hours in the United States has been something stark and difficult to watch, I cannot deny it. Seeing the video of the shooting of Jacob Blake, 7 times in the back as he walked away from police, has re-ignited the conversation around race, police and the political situation in the country to our south. We saw the Milwaukee Bucks set off a series of boycotts across professional sports (with the sadly notable yet unsurprising exception of the NHL) in response to what is happening, the kind of thing we’ve never seen in North America. It was a moment of solidarity that spoke to the difficulty and importance of this moment.
Watching from the outside there have been many questions that have come to mind. Lots of things have come to mind, many thoughts have run through my head and there have been a lot of things that I’ve seen said that have really spoken directly to where my head is at. It’s made it a bit hard to focus on one spot, in one direction, but it was a clip that I saw from Trevor Noah of The Daily Show that probably did it the best for me, and set me in a direction to write this piece. Here is what he said last night:
Noah didn’t tap dance around the crux of this problem, he put his finger right on it. In what’s happened over the past few days in Kenosha, Wisconsin you’ve seen the disturbing issue play out in stark reality. Jacob Black was shot seven times in the back despite not having any arms on him while Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17 year-old who drove to Kenosha from Illinois, crossing state lines with an AR-15, was skulking around the streets and shot three people, killing two of them and didn’t get arrested by the police at that moment. There is video out there showing the shooting, then showing Rittenhouse approaching the police with his AR-15 strapped over his shoulder and his hands in the air, trying to offer himself up to police while witnesses who saw him shoot those people screamed “He shot them”. That video ended by showing the police basically telling Rittenhouse to go home, not by arresting him or even questioning him.
How exactly can you ignore that contrast, when a black man who was unarmed and wasn’t threatening gets shot 7 times in the back in front of his children, while this 17 year-old walked openly in the streets with a weapon he likely shouldn’t have had after openly shooting three other people. That’s why Noah’s question is so important, because if you can answer that honestly, you see the problem in its full effect. With that in mind, three other videos I saw I believe help to answer that question. The first comes from earlier that same night, a video that has been making the rounds on social media, that shows how the police viewed Rittenhouse and other militia members on the ground in Kenosha:
I’ve seen that video over a dozen times, and it doesn’t stop hitting me hard. In that moment, with everything that’s going on, some of those police saw those heavily armed civilians and didn’t see a threat, but a bloody ally. Some of those officers confirmed that by offering them water and saying straight out they appreciated their “help”. When you see that you can’t think about how that validates what they are doing, giving them a pat on the back. That’s especially striking given the second video I have here, with part of Stephen Colbert’s monologue that speaks to this:
Think about that folks, this militia group puts out a public message to law enforcement to ask the police to leave them alone as they stalk the streets with dangerous weapons and cap the statement by making a passing threat, saying that they will basically outnumber the police. “Please, let us play vigilant in the streets but if you don’t, remember, there are more of us and we’re heavily armed”. Imagine for a moment putting the shoe on the other foot, if it the unarmed protestors put out such a statement, capped in such a way and how that would have been received. You know what that would look like, and you know it would be so much worse if they were actually armed. Again, thing of the confirmation that kind of situation gives to those militia members. They not-so-vaguely threatened the police while being heavily armed to overpower them and the police didn’t respond. Heck, they gave them water and appreciation when they saw them in the streets.
You have to wonder how in the Hell you get into this place, where the Kenosha police see these two groups of people in such starkly different ways that make no logical sense. You can’t explain away that contrast with bromides about “not seeing colour” or anything like that. That doesn’t fly here. But if you want to get a better idea of how the Kenosha police arrived at this point, I point you to the third video. This is Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth, you know the same dude who was seen on TV saying “Hell no” to deputizing those same militia members. Here is a press conference he gave in January 2018 about a theft at an outlet mall and the events around it. It’s starts as a typical press event like this, but at about the 4-minute mark, it takes a dark turn that tells us a lot about the mindset of the leadership of law enforcement in that area:
“Some people aren’t worth saving”. “We need to build warehouses to put these people away”. “Let’s stop these men from going out and getting 10 women pregnant and making small children”. “We have to get to the point that we no longer put up with the garbage people that fill out communities, that are a cancer to our society”. “These people are not an asset to society”. “These people just need to flat out go away” Those words coming from the head of that law enforcement agency, one that is supposed to “serve and protect” all the people in its community. That’s how he sees those who he is supposed to serve, clear as day. He says he’s trying not to be “politically correct” but sorry, that’s just flat out ignorant crap on a disturbing level. And when you see that crap at the top, you can easily see how those officers below him might get a confirmation that they should act the same way.
That’s how you end up with situations like you saw in Kenosha the other night and over the last few days. In Sheriff Beth’s own words, people like Jacob Blake are “garbage people” who “are not an asset to society” who “flat out need to go away”. You see Sheriff Beth thinks he has all the answers to everything, he gets to be a one-man judge, jury and executioner. In those words he uttered, he showed his utter contempt for large swaths of his community, people who he deems unworthy of the rights and liberties that all Americans are born with. He calls them “garbage people” who need to be “warehoused”, who he feels obviously deserve it because they keep “making small children”, which he disturbingly highlights.
When you have someone leading a police force freely and without apology spewing such vile crap before the media, it gives permission for the officers below him to act in the same way and view the world in the same disturbing fashion. That’s how you end up with a situation where you see protestors of colour being treated like enemies of the state and heavily Caucasian militias roaming the streets of an American city being treated like an ally of the law. That answers Trevor Noah’s question right there, and it further shows what these people are protesting against. It shows everything that’s wrong with this situation and everything that needs to be addressed. I don’t know how more disturbingly clear you can make it, so if you don’t see it, I can’t help you. If this looks fine to you then that says much more about you and I can’t help that. I continue to hope and pray that leaders in the US see this that clearly and rise to this moment but if that’s what the Sheriff in that county is saying in his most honest moments, it doesn’t leave me with that much hope.