Vigilantism is the rule, not the exception in the American legal system, and always has been. At least for white men.
November 12, 2021

Joy Reid executed a masterful takedown of white vigilante culture in America, explaining in the plainest of terms that since the colonies freed themselves from the king, they became "little kings of their own" and not a thing has changed since. She started, though with the most recent example, Kyle Rittenhouse, and worked backwards from there.

Comparing the Rittenhouse case with George Zimmerman's, the differences and similarities couldn't be more stark and upsetting.

"Much like the Rittenhouse case, the Zimmerman case was fundamentally about American vigilantism. And whether it is legal in America for a person not in law enforcement to take it upon themselves to arm themselves with a gun, and mete out what they view as justice in the name of self-defense and investigating property crime," said Reid. She pronounced, accurately, that as long as you're white, that's A-OK in America. Then, though, she took us back in time.

"European history on the American continent from 1619 to today is an almost unbroken record of vigilanteism in the name of defending property rights, whether that property was human and African and enslaved, or in the form of wives or daughters who had no individual property or voting rights of their own," she started, just getting rolling. "Or whether it was physical land. America is a country formed by men who threw off the European kings to become little kings of their own, with land and slaves and women under their charge. And whether it was the colonizers' merciless enforcement of their own made-up authority to forcibly seize indigenous people's land, often wiping out entire tribes, or the fugitive slave laws that authorized any white man to forcibly capture enslaved people who broke for freedom, or the religious fanatics who claimed the right to try and burn at the stake any woman deemed to be a witch, or the more than 4,000 lynchings from the Redemption Era to Emmett Till and the massacres from Elaine, Arkansas, to Wilmington, North Carolina, to Tulsa, Oklahoma and on and on and on."

The assertion that this government prioritizes laws and freedom just gets more and more absurd with every example Reid rattled off.

"Any white man who claimed a crime had occurred felt completely entitled to enforce the law himself. Sometimes with a gang of his friends. And the best part, these sacred laws almost never applied to these men. They were virtually immune from the law themselves." They still are.

"But given that vigilantism is so steeped in American culture, should we really be surprised a 17-year-old Proud Boys fan believed he had the perfect right to cross state lines and protect property with the AR-15 he got because he thought it was cool? Or that Zimmerman believed it was his duty to investigate property crime by following a 17-year-old kid and shooting and killing him even after police told him to stand down?" asks Reid. Don't answer. It's rhetorical. Then came the most devastating and damning comparison of all. Not between Rittenhouse and Zimmerman, but Rittenhouse and Trayvon Martin.

"These two teenagers, Kyle Rittenhouse and Trayvon Martin exist on entirely opposite sides of the American legal system, and of Black Lives Matter, right? The white kid with the AR-15 who shot three white Black Lives Matter protesters, Fox News types, and apparently Tulsi Gabbard, view him as someone who could be their son. Clean cut and innocent, maybe even heroic. While the Black kid who was holding candy and iced tea in his hands for his little brother, and for whom the #BlackLivesMatter was born, not so much. He must have been a thug, right? And everybody who is willing to pay attention knows what I said is true."

Yes. It is absolutely true. Remember the outrage when President Obama dared to say that Trayvon Martin could have been his younger self? The white freak-out about that simple show of empathy and compassion?

Reid concluded with the long list of things that have happened just in the last year or so to prove her point that white vigilanteism is the feature, not the bug in the American legal system.

"It should be no surprise that in America three white alleged vigilantes believed that they had the right to enforce the law against property crime on an unarmed black jogger who hadn't committed any crime, Ahmaud Arbery. And they'll probably get away with it too. Or that hundreds of Trump supporters believe they could take it upon themselves to right the so-called wrong Trump believed had been committed against him in the election by Black and brown voters in key states, getting him installed by force, by invading the Capitol with a noose, defecating on the grounds, flying the the treason flag, and attacking police. Or Texas men who oppose abortion believe the law should authorize them to collect the bounty on women who legally obtain an abortion under the soon to be defunct Roe v. Wade. Because in these men's minds, they are the law, the only law that matters in America."

Then she lowers the final hammer. "You want to know why they think that? Because the law keeps telling them so."

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