Issues of Accountability

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Dr. Malcolm Cross

The jury returned the right verdict in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial, finding all three of his killers guilty of murder.  Their self-defense claims were ludicrous and utterly without merit.  But while the Rittenhouse and Arbery trials are over—at least for the time being—they raise serious issues of accountability which must be resolved if we’re to combat crime and violence in the future.  The spate of “smash-and-grabs” and other crimes following in the wake of progressive “reforms” add urgency to the quest for a more just society.

Kyle Rittenhouse’s defense was credible and successful because he had solid evidence to back up his claim of self-defense—videos and eyewitness testimony showing him running away from the first attacker he shot and being attacked and struck in the head with a skateboard by the second attacker he subsequently shot, and the admission by his third attacker that he had pointed a gun at Rittenhouse before Rittenhouse shot him.  Being able to prove he had been attacked before fighting back was the key to Rittenhouse’s acquittal.

Arbery’s three murderers—Gregory and Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan—could make no such claim.  They claimed self-defense when Arbery tried to seize Travis McMichael’s shotgun while resisting a “citizen’s arrest,” but Arbery was trying to runaway from them before they trapped him with their trucks.  In fact, they’re the ones who provoked Arbery and he alone, had he survived and been accused of attacking them, would have had a perfect self-defense claim.  Besides, Travis McMichael, the actual shooter, admitted under oath on the witness stand that Arbery had neither a weapon nor any stolen goods with him, and had made no threats before he was killed.  The best argument that one of the murderers’ lawyers could offer was that Arbery, a Black, was out of place in a White neighborhood.  Besides, Arbery had “long and dirty toenails.”  You really can’t make this stuff up!  At any rate, the infamous video of Arbery’s murder lays everything out in gruesome detail.  If the verdict in the Rittenhouse case was the only logical outcome based on the evidence, so, too, was the verdict in the Arbery murder case.

But questions remain—and not just questions about how or when or even if racism can ever be reduced to the point where Blacks need not fear being killed for being Black (by the way, 11 of the 12 jurors in the Arbery case were white).  As I noted in last week’s column, Tony Evers, the Governor of Wisconsin, seemed arguably derelict in his duty to help preserve law and order in Kenosha following the police shooting of Jacob Blake which touched off the race riots which brought Kyle Rittenhouse and other vigilantes to Kenosha.  His immediate response was to denounce the “racism” allegedly reflected by the shooting even before it had been investigated, without making any call for order or waiting to find out what happened before passing judgment.  He resisted sending in more than a token contingent of National Guard forces and ignored the pleas of Kenosha political leaders for more help.  If ever a governor needed a thorough investigation—possibly through the rubric of impeachment—Evers is it.  At the very least, it must be recognized that the first need of any society is order, that the first responsibility of any government is to supply that order, and that the citizens themselves will try to do so if their government won’t.

A major issue which remains to be resolved in the Arbery case is the coverup by police and prosecutors of the murders for more than two months before the McMichaels and Bryan were arrested.  Apparently Gregory McMichael had been a long-time investigator for local law enforcement, and friends with several prosecutors, both of whom recused themselves.  One of them has been indicted for misconduct in refusing to prosecute, whether other heads should—or will—roll remains to be seen.  But investigations of the law enforcement and prosecutorial community where Arbery was murdered are clearly in order.  And it must be recognized that evidence of police and prosecutorial corruption, especially when it involves the cover up of violent crimes to protect those associated with law enforcement, will only diminish citizens’ regard for the authorities.

Also in order is a closer look at the link between progressive “reforms” in criminal justice and the rising incidence of smash-and-grabs and other crimes.  The smash-and-grabs in San Francisco and Los Angeles follow both a referendum in which California’s voters chose to decriminalize shoplifting of goods less than $950 in value, and the election of progressive prosecutors for Los Angeles and San Francisco, both of whom seem unwilling to do much about the thefts or even admit they’re a problem.  The suspect in the Waukesha massacre was free after posting ridiculously low bail following his arrest for allegedly attempting to run down a girlfriend with the same vehicle.  The most obvious question is whether there’s a cause-and-effect relationship between decriminalization of theft and “bail reform” and a seemingly rising crime rate.  And if so, how can the laws be changed, and the progressives currently “enforcing” them be replaced?  In the meantime, one should not be too surprised to see a resurgence of vigilantism in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities beset by rising crime should the authorities remain ineffective.  In fact, many would find it most emotionally satisfying to see the spectacle of well-armed and well-trained security guards, hiding out in department stores, surprising, catching, and stopping the smash-and-grabbers.  I know I would.  


Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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