On Aug. 23, 2020, Jacob Blake was shot seven times in front of his kids as he walked away from the police. While Jacob survived the shooting, he is paralyzed, and his life will never be the same. Two days later, a 17-year-old white supremacist drove over state lines and shot two people, murdering two of them. All three were protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake.
After a summer of national protests, this racial reckoning was brought to our doorstep in Wisconsin. Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber both died the evening of Aug. 25, 2021. They could have easily been any of us who have been to protests against police brutality. Our state was shaken and enraged. We searched for answers and demanded real criminal justice reform. Shortly after the tragic events in Kenosha, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) launched a task force on racial disparities. We were skeptical for obvious reasons, but also, a small part of us hoped that this would be the catalyst to finally get some real change. That didn’t happen.
Flash forward to now, as the Kyle Rittenhouse trial wraps up. The trial has retraumatized a lot of us. I know that’s true for me, and I don’t even live in Kenosha like our BLOC organizer there. We talked about the people he shot in the office, and someone said, “That could have been my brother” or “He looks like my friend.” Anthony, JoJo, and Jacob could have been any one of us. It’s a sobering reminder that we are not safe in our bodies and in this skin. Organizers and activists are grieving, and our organizing can make the wounds deeper. Wounds and scars go unhealed while we try to heal others.
Before the trial got underway, Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder said that the prosecution couldn’t use the word “victim” to describe the two people whose lives were stolen because victim was a “loaded term.” “Looters” and “rioters” were acceptable, though. It was important for us to make space to talk about this trial.
Given the judge’s behavior, some of us lost hope in a fair trial before it even started. Every time a trial like this happens, some of us spend weeks mentally preparing for a scenario where there is no conviction. It’s become an instant reflex my mind and body does to protect me from the future heartbreak in this system.
So what do we do with all of this? What does this all mean? It means we’re in for a long fight for justice. Our liberations and futures depend on how we show up for this moment. It also means that there needs to be an unequivocal groundswell rejection of white supremacy in all its forms. There should be no openings for far-right extremist violence in our country. Our lack of robust conversations and true change creates an opening for these violent attacks to continue.
The failure to move our country forward is pouring gasoline on a fire. People like Rittenhouse are emboldened. Why wouldn’t they be? It’s been proven time and time again that there will be no real consequences for their violent acts. Police and elected officials donated to his GoFundMe page. He is being painted as a martyr. With that type of narrative, there is an opening for these violent acts to proliferate. We need to actively disrupt these actions. Can we at least try to make racism unpopular again?
This can’t solely rest on the shoulders of the traumatized and grieving. White supremacists are not just people wearing white pointy hoods. They’ve infiltrated our institutions. Those racist jokes at Thanksgiving: Shut them down. Nothing about the fight for our lives is funny. This is not the time to be passive. We need to be aggressive and act like our lives are on the line.
Our lives and dignity are always on trial, even now. We aren’t on trial, a white supremacist is, but the decision, in this case, will inevitably send a message about how valuable our lives are.
I’m afraid that there is no good outcome from this trial. If Rittenhouse walks out a free person, it’s a giant injustice (one we are both used to and honestly expecting). If the system shocks us and he is convicted, all those who made him a martyr will be angry. Frankly speaking, a bunch of white men with guns are going to be upset. There are already calls for massive protests if he isn’t acquitted. No matter the outcome of this trial, we will continue to be divided over what is right and what is wrong.
Racism, at the end of the day, in the simplest of terms, is wrong. That sounds obvious, but due to our collective inaction, it doesn’t feel obvious. This trial will continue to signal the lack of urgency to protect our lives and disrupt a white supremacist system that has been in place for generations.
Who are we in this moment? We are doing the best we can to sound the alarm to local elected officials all the way to the White House that we must draw a line in the sand. White supremacy is so pervasive that sometimes we don’t even recognize when it needs to be disrupted, but allies need to continue to do the work.
Everyone needs to show up in the way that they can. We didn’t get here overnight, and we for sure won’t fix this in a day. We can’t be flexible in how we allow racism in some forms but not others. Unchecked privilege leads to things like the election of Donald Trump and Rittenhouse being hailed as a hero. It breaks my heart that we have strayed so far that racist dog whistles have become bull horns.
Where were you last summer? Did you do the Instagram blackout? Did you take a selfie at the protests to post on Facebook? Did you buy all the popular books everyone was talking about? Are those books collecting dust? Did you read them just to say you read them, and people assume you are an ally? Trainings and books without actual implementation or interventions are just a pat on the back. It’s great you can rattle off the definition of privilege, yet when Black organizations ask you to stand with them, you find an excuse. You have more work to do.
Despite the way Black folks are treated in this country, we extend a lot of grace, more than we should. We’re asking you to be an ally by being an accomplice. Stand shoulder to shoulder with us. It’s honestly the only way we right this course, save democracy and make racism unpopular again.
Angela Lang is the Founder and Executive Director of BLOC (Black Leaders Organizing for Communities), an organization dedicated to organizing and building political power in the African American Community. Before that, she served in senior organizing roles for SEIU and For our Future.
Exonerated! Wrongly Convicted Black Folks Whose Names Have Been Cleared
1. Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil IslamSource:Getty 1 of 17
2. Juwan Deering2 of 17
3. Herbert Alford
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A Michigan man who spent nearly five years in custody is suing Hertz for failing to produce in a timely manner a receipt that would have proved his innocence long before he was convicted of a 2011 murder. https://t.co/kZaI5tdOv4— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 12, 2021
4. Walter Forbes
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“I don’t hold contempt for the people who lied to convict me ... The reason is selfish: I wasn’t going to allow them to destroy me," said Walter Forbes, freed and exonerated last week after 37 years with the help of @UofMInnocence. https://t.co/WfanIitchU— The Innocence Project (@innocence) December 14, 2020
5. Termaine Joseph Hicks
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An innocent Philadelphia man has been freed after spending 19 years in prison because two police officers wrongly claimed he’d raped a woman and then shot at them, when he’d in fact saved her from a different man .Attorneys for Termaine Joseph Hicks claim cops made up the story . pic.twitter.com/FJp5DQUMoQ— HJ (Hank) Ellison (@hjtherealj) December 18, 2020
6. Clifford Williams, Nathan Myers
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After a combined 86 years incarcerated for a crime they did not commit, Clifford Williams Jr. and his nephew, Nathan Myers, were exonerated and released last week! Mr. Myers was 18 when he was arrested and is now 61. Mr. Williams was 33 and is now 76. https://t.co/EH2qPCspEj— Equal Justice Initiative (@eji_org) April 5, 2019
7. Calvin BrightSource:WUSA9 7 of 17
8. Kevin Baker, Sean Washington
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Kevin Baker and Sean Washington received life terms in 1996 that were overturned on appeal in December https://t.co/MSWoxkwPzi— Courier-Post (@cpsj) February 4, 2020
9. Theophalis Wilson
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Theophalis Wilson was 17-years-old when he was falsely accused of a triple murder in Philadelphia and sentenced to life in prison. Now, 28 years later, he finally has his freedom. He spoke with @KeithJones https://t.co/mVDISp68hy pic.twitter.com/RQ2pEdZBfM— NBC10 Philadelphia (@NBCPhiladelphia) January 22, 2020
10. Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins, and Andrew Stewart
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And they are out: Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart walk out of the Baltimore city courthouse after 36 yrs for a crime they didn’t do: pic.twitter.com/5UDGWMZmOB— Tom Jackman (@TomJackmanWP) November 25, 2019
11. Deandre Charles11 of 17
12. Exonerated Five - Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise12 of 17
13. Anthony Ray Hinton
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Name: Anthony Ray Hinton, who was on Alabama’s Death Row for nearly 30 years for a murder he didn’t commit. In 2018, he wrote about his experience in the NYT bestseller, The Sun Does Shine.— City of Birmingham (@cityofbhamal) October 4, 2019
Occupation: Works in community education with the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery pic.twitter.com/EwiaJueimb
14. Lamar Johnson14 of 17
15. Wilbert Jones
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Louisiana man freed from prison after serving 43 years for a crime he did not commit. Wilbert Jones was arrested in 1971 at the age of 19 and convicted of rape in 1974. A judge overturned his conviction weeks ago. He still had to pay $2,000 bail before becoming a free man today. pic.twitter.com/LYV4gbTPOf— Joel Franco (@OfficialJoelF) November 15, 2017
16. Xavier DavisSource:Courtesy of Xavier Davis 16 of 17
17. Huwe Burton
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2,372nd Exon: Huwe Burton was convicted in 1991 for stabbing his mother to death when he was 16. He was exonerated on Jan 24th after an investigation showed that his confession was coerced and that his mother's real killer was likely a downstairs neighbor. https://t.co/TM3f76moQ5 pic.twitter.com/rsU1NlPr2y— Exoneration Registry (@exonerationlist) February 4, 2019
Wisconsin Activist Angela Lang On Moving Forward After The Rittenhouse Verdict was originally published on newsone.com