Black man’s acquittal in self-defense case complicates liberal indictment of US justice system

In the wake of last week’s verdict in Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial, some commentators have seen the acquittal of a white Illinois teen as an indictment of America.

There is a two-tier system here, where [black Americans] You have no right to self-defense in the same way [as white Americans]”I don’t have the right to the Second Amendment, in the same way,” CNN political commentator Van Jones said on Como Prime Time on November 22.

Jones claimed to give voice to the “pain” in black and progressive societies that seemingly believe America’s laws are not applied equally.

“There’s still pain here about feeling different,” Jones continued. “We do not have the right to self-defense and the Second Amendment in the same way that others do.”

Over the past six days, judgments have been passed in three different murder cases that provide data points to help assess these concerns about the fair application of self-defense laws in US courtrooms.

Of course, Jones isn’t alone in asking these questions after the Rittenhouse trial.

Vice President Kamala Harris expressed her disappointment with the ruling in Kenosha, telling reporters, “I have spent most of my career working to make our criminal justice system more equitable. There is clearly still a lot of work to do.”

Buzzfeed focused on the case of 21-year-old Mark Wilson, who is facing felony murder charges, after the shooting and murder of a 17-year-old white woman.

“In a justice system that has historically treated black defendants more harshly than white, the Wilson case raises the question whether a young black self-defense claim would have the same weight as other prominent defendants recently made,” Buzzfeed wrote.

Wilson reportedly shot a car carrying the alleged victim and her friends, after they shouted racial insults, veered toward him on the highway and threw something at his car.

While it is unwise to draw general conclusions from three trials in different circumstances, under different state laws, before different judges and juries—three recent cases suggest that the reality of justice in America is more complex than Van Jones and others claim.

Kyle Rittenhouse (left) in Kenosha Circuit Court on Friday, November 12, 2021, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

On Friday, November 19, a jury in Kenosha, Wisconsin, acquitted white teen Kyle Rittenhouse of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder in the shooting of three men.

Rittenhouse largely claimed self-defense at the witness stand.

I didn’t intend to kill them. “I intended to stop people attacking me,” he said. “I did what I had to do to stop the person who was attacking me.”

And in a little-publicized case, which was also decided on Friday, a Florida jury found Andrew Coffey IV, a black man, not guilty on charges including premeditated murder and attempted murder.

In Kofi’s case, he reportedly shot the Indian River County, Florida Sheriff’s Deputies, who raided his home in 2017.

Covey testified that he was asleep when deputies broke into his home in Gifford, Florida. They were looking for his father.

The young man said he had not heard the representatives identifying themselves as law enforcement officers.

He shot them with a .45 caliber pistol, apparently fearing for his life. His pregnant girlfriend, Alteria Woods, aged 21, was killed in a shootout.

At the time, Indian River County Sheriff Deryl Lower accused Coffey of using Woods as a human shield.

Andrew 'AJ"Coffee IV (center) interacts with the defense attorney for the jury's acquittal of second-degree felony and other crimes during his trial in Indian River County Court.

Andrew ‘AJ’ Coffee IV (center) seated with his defense attorney reacts to a jury’s verdict of his innocence of second-degree felony and other crimes during his trial in Indian River County Court.

“He was cowardly using it as protection,” said Loire.

Inside The Coffee home, investigators allegedly found narcotics, including pain pills, cocaine and powder cocaine, along with a stockpile of firearms.

Coffee was charged with second-degree murder in connection with Woods’ death, and three counts of attempted murder of a first-degree law enforcement officer, among other charges.

In court, Covey argued in self-defense under the Florida “Keep Your Stand” law.

“I was trying to protect me and Alteria and I thought I was doing it,” Covey testified.

The jury acquitted him of the murder charges, although he was found guilty of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, due to previous convictions.

The Rittenhouse and Coffee cases are not the same, but both defendants, one white and one black, claimed self-defense and went down.

A grand jury in Georgia on Wednesday, November 24, indicted three white men in the February 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

Defense teams for Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor, William “Rudy” Brian, allege that their clients acted in self-defence during the arrest of a citizen.

This photo, from left, shows Travis McMichael, William Roddy Bryan, and Gregory McMichael during their trial at Glenn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga.

This photo, from left, shows Travis McMichael, William Roddy Bryan, and Gregory McMichael during their trial at Glenn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga.

Travis McMichael, who shot and killed Arbery, testified that he was at his home in Brunswick, Georgia, when his father told him that a suspected burglar had just passed by their home.

McMichael’s captured weapons chased Arbery with a pickup truck. Their neighbor Brian also joined the chase in his car, capturing the deadly confrontation on his cell phone.

Travis McMichael claimed that Arbery tried to fight him when he and his father tried to stop and interrogate him.

“It was obvious he was attacking me,” testified Travis McMichael, who confronted Arbery with a loaded rifle.

The jury didn’t buy it. The three men were convicted of murder and face a mandatory life sentence.

Each case had a complex set of circumstances that undoubtedly affected the jury. But what these examples show is a range of outcomes, regardless of race, in self-defense trials.

In Kenosha, a white teenager claimed self-defense and was found not guilty. In Gifford, a black man claimed self-defense and was acquitted. In Brunswick, three white men were convicted.

Perhaps commentators should not be so quick to condemn the US justice system.

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