Bob Neal: The Countryman: Justice unfolds, but slowly
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it leans toward justice,” Dr. Martin Luther King told us four days before his assassination. He didn’t say he folded regularly or quickly.
From court rulings last week in Virginia, Georgia and Wisconsin, we can assess whether the arc is in fact leaning toward justice.
To summarize. A federal civilian jury in Charlottesville, Virginia, held the organizers of the murderous “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 liable for $ 25 million in damages. A predominantly white jury in Brunswick, Georgia, has found three white vigilantes guilty of murdering a black man running through a white neighborhood. And a jury in Kenosha, Wisconsin cleared a white man of the murder of two white racial justice protesters.
King’s speech on March 31, 1968 at the National Cathedral gave hope that justice would eventually prevail and black America would triumph. Then he left for Memphis.
Let’s set the starting point of our moral universe arc at July 16, 1949. This is the date a 17-year-old told the police that she had been raped and her husband had been beaten by four. young black men in Groveland, Florida. The young men, now known as the “Groveland Four”, never had a chance against a rigged system to defeat them. And in this case, kill them.
The sheriff shot all four, killing one. One of them escaped and was killed by more than 400 bullets fired by the troops of a sheriff. The other two were found guilty and each served more than a decade in prison. Both are dead.
The FBI said at trial that the prosecution and the sheriff tampered with evidence. It was in Florida in 1949. In 2021 in Florida, a judge cleared the Groveland Four. Too late to help them, but the “crime” has always been written off. Officially.
From that grim start, we move on to Charlottesville, where an anti-alt-right protester was crushed and killed by a rally, now serving jail time for killing her. The jury held him liable for nearly half of the $ 25 million in damages awarded and ordered 12 individual organizers to pay $ 500,000 each and five of their organizations to pay $ 1 million each.
Even for right-wing organizations that easily fundraise on anti-social media sites, $ 25 million is a lot of money. In my book, finding these guilty thugs is a big twist to justice by the arc of the universe.
It’s hard to see how even a jury of nine white women, two white men and one black man could not convict the three vigilantes who murdered Ahmaud Arbery. When a jogger running through the streets is attacked by men in pickup trucks, one of them wielding a shotgun, it’s hard to keep a straight face when their lawyer says “self-defense.”
These vigilantes played the game of observers who would stereotype them as rednecks. One of them was so numb that he gave the police the video he had shot of them killing Arbery. All three are sentenced to life imprisonment. No conviction date has been communicated.
The key word in this whole sad story is “Georgia”. Even though two prosecutors were unwilling to indict white men killing a black man, the case seemed open and closed. But, it was in Georgia. In the end, enough right-thinking whites showed up to get an honest investigation, charges, and convictions.
If Georgia can step into the 20th century, who can say others in Dixie can’t?
But can Wisconsin? The state that gave us both Robert LaFollette, the progressive from the progressive (and a Republican), and Joseph McCarthy, the red-baiter from the red-baiter.
In Kenosha, Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of the murder of two white men protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man. Rittenhouse also claimed self-defense.
Wisconsin judges are elected, so the Kenosha judge, who has refused even to let prosecutors call Rittenhouse victims “victims,” ââmay have had his eye on his re-election.
The prosecution, per news reports, offered a weak case, so Rittenhouse’s acquittal did not surprise me. Here’s what bothers me, though. Rittenhouse went to Kenosha from his home in Illinois as a provocateur. He carried a rifle like an AR-15. Police haven’t asked anyone else to help protect their town from the protests over the Blake shooting.
What worked for Rittenhouse in Wisconsin didn’t work for vigilantes in Georgia. I’m afraid that in the future this defense will become common: âI came with a gun into a public place. Because I had the gun, I was a target, and I had to defend myself. So I killed people who didn’t have a weapon. In self-defense.
If this is our future, we could go back to the days of the Old West. Which, as Hollywood describes, never happened.
Bob Neal is happy to see good things happen in places they rarely happened before. Nothing that is happening in his native Wisconsin these days comes as no surprise to him, however. Neal can be contacted at [emailÂ protected].