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Analysis: 4 cases converge to test American justice

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One trial features White men accused of taking justice into their own hands to kill a Black man.
One features a White man who took a gun to patrol a Black Lives Matter protest and ended up killing two people.
One seeks to make organizers pay after a Nazi rally turned deadly.
And, finally, there is the long-sought clemency for a Black man convicted of killing a White man in a carjacking where racial bias may have played a role in the conviction.
Each case is distinct, but they weave together the fraught era of reckoning over issues of race and justice — something taking place nationwide and, this week, specifically in Wisconsin, Georgia, Virginia and Oklahoma.

Ahmaud Arbery: Can armed White men in a pickup rely on a ‘citizen’s arrest’ claim to kill an unarmed Black jogger?

The basic narrative of the case in Georgia, per CNN’s report, is this:
Arbery’s family has said he was out for a jog when he was shot and killed. Defense attorneys contend their clients were trying to conduct a lawful citizen’s arrest of Arbery, and Travis McMichael shot Arbery in self-defense as they wrestled over Travis’ shotgun.
Graphic video of the shooting from February 2020 made the case a cause célèbre during the summer last year when the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis sparked a nationwide protest movement.
Three White men are on trial — Gregory McMichael, his son Travis, and William Bryan, who recorded the pursuit and shooting of Arbery.
Whether men can be fearful for their lives as they grab weapons and chase down another man in their pickup is, perhaps, a legal question.
But this case has taken on larger importance with its racial overtones. The jury selected is almost entirely White. How does that happen in a case like this?
Civil rights leaders and Black pastors attended the trial, drawing criticism from the defense, which led to even more pastors attending.

Kyle Rittenhouse: Is the teen who joined a vigilante mob guilty of murder?

The teen took an AR-15-style rifle and joined up with people who took it upon themselves to patrol the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020. Black Lives Matter protests had turned to unrest and rioting after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man.
Rittenhouse was pursued by protesters, one of whom threw a bag at him. Rittenhouse opened fire.
“I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself,” he testified during tearful testimony. The prosecution used drone video to argue Rittenhouse provoked the confrontation with his gun.
The judge has raised eyebrows with his quirks, such as saying the dead cannot be called “victims,” and his inappropriate comments about Asians.
Rittenhouse has become a hero to some gun-rights activists. Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz said he might give the 18-year-old an internship if he’s acquitted.
Rittenhouse could be convicted of lesser charges instead of the most serious murder charges.
Kenosha is on edge. Five schools near the Kenosha County courthouse have been moved to virtual learning as jury deliberations drag on.

Charlottesville: Are organizers liable for the deadly ‘Unite the Right’ rally?

Closing arguments are underway in the civil trial brought by residents and counterprotesters. They are seeking damages against 14 people and 10 White supremacist and nationalist organizations involved in a two-day rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
The rally was held to oppose the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. It resulted in violence and the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer when James Fields, who was among the Unite the Right protesters, rammed a car through a crowd of counterprotesters.
The events horrified many Americans. Then-President Donald Trump drew condemnation for defending what he called “very fine people” among the White supremacist protesters.
Fields was convicted and given life sentences in both state and federal courts in 2019. This civil trial is to determine whether protest organizers are liable for physical and emotional injuries suffered by the townspeople and counterprotesters.

Julius Jones: A Black man is given clemency from the death penalty. There are questions about his guilt.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt waited until just hours before Julius Jones was to be put to death before granting him clemency for a 1999 killing of a White man, Paul Howell, during a carjacking. Jones has maintained his innocence. A parole board recommended commuting Jones’ sentence to life with the possibility of parole. Stitt, a Republican, commuted the sentence to life without the possibility of parole instead.
Jones had high-profile backers in Kim Kardashian, a reality TV star and an activist on sentencing reform, and Baker Mayfield, the NFL quarterback who was a star at the University of Oklahoma.
In his clemency petition, Jones cited, among other things, racial bias in his jury.

What’s next?

There is not an “a-ha” theme tying all four of these cases together. And there are others that could be included, including the exoneration Thursday of two men jailed for killing the civil rights icon Malcolm X.
From CNN’s story on the case: “‘The assassination of Malcolm X was a historic event that demanded a scrupulous investigation and prosecution but, instead, produced one of the most blatant miscarriages of justice that I have ever seen,’ said attorney Barry Scheck, a co-founder of the Innocence Project.
The juries in the three active trials have heard evidence about different people. There is already some justice for the killing in Charlottesville, but the ugly fact of White nationalism is a stain on the country.
And in Oklahoma, there is the simple question of guilt overlaid with a system that treats people very differently because of their race.
The verdicts may all be different. The problems will not be going away anytime soon.
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