Guest View: What is justice in America?

·4 min read

On Nov. 19, a Wisconsin jury found Kyle Rittenhouse, an 18-year-old white man, not guilty on all five charges, including the fatal shooting of two men and the wounding of another man, during a Black Lives Matter protest against devastating police brutality in Kenosha nearly 15 months ago.

Because of Rittenhouse, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony M. Huber are dead. Because of Rittenhouse, Gaige Grosskreutz, whose biceps muscle was severed as a result of Rittenhouse’s shooting, will never use his arm normally again, with lost muscle tissue and no feeling in most of his forearm and thumb.

All Rittenhouse had to say regarding such charges — through tears — was that he was acting in self-defense when confronted by those he was targeting with his AR-15. Would this have been enough were he a person of color?

In the context of this new travesty of justice, I want to talk about the shooting death of Robert Gutierrez by police in Springfield.

On Sept. 6, Robert Gutierrez was shot and killed by police responding to a call about domestic violence in Springfield. Initial news reports offered the barest details, all following a narrative about a violent and intoxicated man armed with a gun who was threatening family members.

There was almost no community comment, almost no community outrage about this death. The broad public, mostly white, didn’t even seem to notice. This has got to stop.

Stopping has to do with why I am writing this piece now — to be accountable. This is a necessary first step toward change.

Now I see the spectacle not only of the police's needless violence, but also of my own non-response. I see the same in the community at large, at least the white community, of which I am a part.

This bluntness of my own failure may be painful affirmation for Black, brown, Indigenous and other persons of color of what they already know about the truth of whiteness. My work to dismantle my own white supremacist conditioning is lifelong, and writing this piece is part of my work.

The D.A.’s report, published in The Register-Guard on Sept. 24, justified the killing. It also describes the following: The police knew Gutierrez was armed before they arrived.

More: DA: Lane County deputy's Sept. 6 fatal shooting justifiable

When police arrived, Gutierrez was visible to the police, with a “barn-style door” that was open. He was in a recliner, drinking from a bottle, and did not initially have a gun raised. Gutierrez never attempted to move from his recliner. A deputy named LaFoca shot Robert Gutierrez within seconds of arriving, six rounds total, from inside an “armored rescue vehicle” designed to repel bullets. The D.A.’s report stated that the “protective shield of the hatch malfunctioned and left LaFoca exposed.” Gutierrez had been holding a handgun. The officer killed Gutierrez with an AR-15.

Contrary to an earlier report by AP News that police had attempted to de-escalate the situation, the D.A.’s report makes clear — however unintentionally — that there was no de-escalation by this militarized police force.

A man is dead because of what police decided to do in less than a minute, without strategy other than that of being at war.

The killing of Gutierrez was unnecessary. I reject the state narrative of there being no alternative to this violent and lethal outcome. Such an assumption fails justice and perpetuates devastating trauma.

Messages from Gutierrez to his family before the shooting indicated he was suicidal. I grieve that he received no help. I grieve his death. I grieve the violence suffered by his family and the de-humanization perpetuated by this white supremacist system of policing and law. This is a cycle of police violence that impacts everyone in different ways, numbing the privileged while targeting vulnerable communities.

If we say we care about community and justice, but remain silent about police violence, continuing to go about our day, our claims to such commitment are not only performative — they perpetuate harm.

We must recognize the reality and harm of our own complacency regarding police violence — as a manifestation of white supremacy, it is insidious and persistent. We are awake to this truth or we are not; we resist white supremacy or we do not. There is no neutral ground.

Carter McKenzie is an active member of Springfield-Eugene Showing Up for Racial Justice. She lives in Dexter.

This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Guest View: What is justice in America?

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