Kathleen Parker writing in the Washington Post:
Two recent vigilante killing trials, one in Georgia,
the other in Wisconsin, have exposed a terrifying trend of armed citizens who,
in the name of justice, only make America less safe and portend a future of
fear, intimidation and increasing violence.
They also raise a question that haunts me: How the
hell did we get here? When did we start permitting Americans to take the
law into their own hands?
In the first trial, teen shooter Kyle Rittenhouse
was found not guilty of murdering two men he shot to death
during a racial-justice protest in Kenosha, Wis. in August 2020. Rittenhouse
shot a third man as well, but he survived. Now 18, Rittenhouse had left his
home in Illinois and gone to the protest with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle and a medical kit —
allegedly to help keep the peace.
Defense lawyers made a convincing-enough case that
jurors found that Rittenhouse met the legal definition of self-defense. Though
reactions to the verdict have varied, almost everyone would agree that
Rittenhouse had no business wielding a weapon of such deadly force. Who would
think to do such a thing?
Oh, lots of people, especially the Young Guns in our
country who’ve marinated in tough talk and rough politics for most of their
In Georgia, jury deliberations began Tuesday in the trial of three men
accused of murdering 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, for basically Jogging While
Black. Somewhat like Rittenhouse, the three men were armed, they said, because
of recent burglaries in their community and they thought Arbery looked like he
could be the culprit. In a word, they hunted Arbery — and they killed
It seems unlikely that any jury would let the three
defendants off given the evidence and a superbly -delivered prosecution by
attorney Linda Dunikoski. But even setting aside the presumed verdict, we’re
again faced with armed goons who killed an innocent man for no reason or cause.
Even the shooter, Travis McMichael, admitted during his testimony that Arbery
posed no threat.
More trials for similar behavior are, unfortunately,
inevitable in our hyped-up, trigger-happy, madder-than-hell country. It’s
getting harder to pinpoint what everyone is so angry about — an extended
pandemic, inflation, supply-chain problems, our politics — but a certain percentage
of disgruntled people seem ready to go to war.
This is not normal — or, for a people, sustainable.
If once we fought a Civil War to end slavery, today we’ll fight over just about
any little provocation. Cut off in traffic? Shoot the bastard. I am not
joking: Between June 2020 and May 2021, an average of 42 people per month were
killed or wounded in road-rage shootings, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention
organization. Other local officials report that disagreements that were once
routinely settled with words or at worst police intervention, now often end in
How did we come unglued?
The commonplace nature of firearms is a factor.
Whereas it was once rare to see people walking around with a gun, except in
hunting or rural settings, the United States now boasts 44 states that allow people to openly carry a
weapon in public, though states vary on restrictions. Thus, last year during
the Portland, Ore. riots, we saw would-be combatants stalking around with their
long guns. In Brunswick, Ga., during the trial of Travis McMichael, his father,
Gregory, and neighbor William Bryan, the new Black Panthers walked along
downtown sidewalks carrying rifles. I don’t necessarily worry such displays of
firepower mean someone is going to start shooting, but what else are we to
In common law, going back centuries, there has been
a long tradition against carrying weapons in a manner that bred fears among the
public. What has happened to that way of thinking?
Something. What we see today has been a long time
coming, perhaps beneath our notice. I compare the phenomenon to being so
mesmerized by the sight of a far-off tidal wave that it paralyzes nearly until
the wall of water is upon us.
People who were once political rivals now talk about
each other as if they are enemies. We see ever-growing numbers of extremists on
the right, where white supremacists have been validated by a former president
of the United States. They also feel vindicated by Rittenhouse’s verdict and
see him as a hero, just as those men down in Georgia likely see themselves.
With each stance of an armed vigilante, with each
bullet he loads and locks into some gun’s chamber, we lose a bit more of our
security and, therefore, our freedom. The truth is, a vigilante who attempts to
take justice into his own hands is usually a coward with an inflated ego used
as a beard to conceal his deficiencies.
The challenge for the rest of us is to resist these
posers and demand real justice lest we become victims of our own inertia.
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