This is supposed to be a humor column about music. This week there will be no music and there will be no humor. This is a call to action for Jacob Blake, and for decency.
In response to the murder of George Floyd in May and the subsequent civil rights protests I began dedicating this column to Black artists, vowing to do so until some—any—action was taken to remedy the inexcusable situation we find our nation in, where one group can kill anyone they want for any reason. No trial, no judge and jury, just an executioner with no accountability. All I was looking for was any legislative progress at all, any even incremental step toward real justice.
After 12 weeks, nothing has improved. No action has been taken. The lawlessness and violence by the nation’s police departments has only increased as they’ve attempted to put down peaceful protests with overwhelming force, employing tactics so severe they’re banned in war zones by international law. While the House of Representatives passed a package of reforms they immediately abandoned them for the next issue when Senator Mitch McConnell declined to introduce the bill in the Senate, doing the minimum necessary to appear useful but characteristically not expending political capital to actually enact meaningful change.
Three months after Floyd’s murder, another police shooting has reignited protests. Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin while trying to break up a fight in which he was not involved. He remains paralyzed in a hospital room, where the same police department has handcuffed him to his bed, despite the fact he’s never been accused of any crime and no charges have been filed.
In the resulting protests, a 17-year-old named Kyle Rittenhouse murdered two men and seriously wounded a third. He first shot Joseph Rosenbaum in the head with his AR-15 assault rifle, killing him instantly, while firing into the crowd of protestors. Rosenbaum, known as Jojo to his friends, was a Texas native and the father of a 2-year-old daughter.
Rittenhouse, who had just committed murder, turned and ran toward the police for protection. A group of protesters gave chase in an effort to stop the dangerous and still-armed murderer, as we’re encouraged to do during the too-frequent mass shootings that plague the nation by stories of heroes tackling shooters and saving lives. One of the men who gave chase was 26-year-old avid skater Anthony Huber, who attempted to subdue the heavily armed Rittenhouse armed only with his skateboard. Huber was also shot and killed trying to save others. Also shot through the arm was 26-year-old Gaige Grosskreutz, who was a medic at the protest.
When Rittenhouse got to the police line after committing multiple homicides in full view of hundreds of people, including dozens of officers, the police let him through with no resistance and no attempt to make an arrest. They did stop the protestors giving chase. Rittenhouse was arrested the next day near his home (by another police department). Remember this is the same police department so concerned about the potential danger of a good Samaritan they paralyzed with seven bullets to the back that they handcuffed him to the bed, but apparently a white man who murdered two people wasn’t worth detaining in any hurry.
Even worse than the actions of the Kenosha Police was the reaction from right-wing figures on TV and social media. Tucker Carlson praised Rittenhouse, saying “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?” Talk radio host Jesse Kelly tweeted, “Kyle Rittenhouse is about to be 18, wealthy from all the lawsuits (“WHITE SUPREMACIST!!”), AND with a couple pelts on the wall. Dude is gonna have to fight off hot conservative chicks with a bat.” Retired baseball player Aubrey Huff tweeted, “#KyleRittenhouse is a national treasure.” Ann Coulter tweeted of Rittenhouse, “I want him as my president.”
As of this writing Rittenhouse did not appear for his first court appearance. Rather than issuing a warrant and jailing him immediately, the court date was postponed for 30 days.
This is our country. This is the United States of America. Where the same people who decry a kneeling athlete as a traitor celebrate a spree killer because he murdered people protesting for racial justice and civil rights. These people want violence. They want death. They want a civil war, because it will be perpetrated by brainwashed footsolders like Rittenhouse against protesters exercising their Constitutional rights while they, like Senator Rand Paul, call for FBI investigations and mass arrests if they’re so much as shouted at on a public street.
Earlier in the week professional athletes refused to play to protest these injustices and the others like it. I am not an NBA player and this column is not a playoff game, but I stand with those athletes and their coaches. That’s why this column has no songs and no jokes. We, collectively, as a nation, don’t deserve to be entertained. We don’t deserve an escape. We deserve to sit with what we’ve done, to spend time acknowledging the situation we’re in. We need to spend time truly understanding that, to quote activist Bree Newsome Bass, if we’re required to comply with police without question under any circumstances or face penalty of death then we have no civil liberties. That is the very definition of a police state and it’s the situation in which we live right now.
Next week my column will go back to normal, but not because I’ve abandoned my support of civil rights and basic justice, but because things are going to get worse before they get better and I don’t want the message to be so familiar it becomes white noise.
If you’re able please donate to Jacob Blake and Anthony Huber’s girlfriend, contact your city council and county supervisors to demand changes to local police accountability rules, contact your Representative and Senators to demand meaningful action, attend a protest if you’re able and, in November, vote. If Donald Trump wins a second term things will only get worse and even more of us will die, and if we take him at his word he will also see a third.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.