Life ain’t been no crystal stair… but still, we organize

A verdict is not justice. Despite the relief that some may have felt with the convictions of the men charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse points to something more troubling. 

As a civil rights attorney who has watched the evolution and slow progress of our country over the past forty years, the verdict managed to be both unfathomable and expected at the same time. 

Let’s recollect: the case unfolded like a slow-motion nightmare. We watched the efforts of the presiding judge, seemingly intent on shielding the defendant from culpability to evidence of law enforcement agents who appeared to welcome gun-bearing opponents of people protesting racial injustice, including the seventeen-year-old Rittenhouse who had crossed state lines with an illegally obtained weapon allegedly for the purpose of protecting property.

And, the story is not over. For some, Rittenhouse will be elevated to a patriot who has proven himself worthy of serving as a congressional intern.

The contrast between Rittenhouse, who was acquitted after killing two people and wounding another in a confrontation that he was responsible for creating, is most stark for Black communities who are still grieving the loss of Tamir Rice who was killed for playing with a toy gun. Let us be reminded: Rittenhouse showed up with a weapon to a rally for people who had gathered in defense of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot and seriously wounded by the cops.

What do these developments portend for the future of racial justice in the United States?

My friend Maya Wiley reminds us that we need to continue to investigate the role of judges and the jury and journalists in how we narrate a story and determine accountability. She tweets, “Oh be angry! Just focus that anger on the righteous demand to change laws and practices that do not protect and serve us all equally. Turn that anger into action! Peaceful more powerful! That is and always has been the work. It’s hard and it matters!”

After all, in the Georgia case, there were no charges filed until there was a video and public outrage and non-stop community organizing. 

Last week, I found myself rereading the lines of Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son” in which the mother describes her difficult life as no crystal stair. Still, her response is not to surrender. Here is to continuing the struggle.

Dennis Parker, Executive Director