Greg Abbott’s BLM pardon: Vigilante justice is always about racism for the right

The last few years have seen a new round of vigilante killings in America, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the civil rights movement. And under a new interpretation of the meaning of self-defense, many are getting away with it.

Recall a few years back when an armed man named George Zimmerman down in Florida thought a young Black kid named Trayvon Martin looked suspicious so he jumped him and when the startled teenager fought back, Zimmerman shot and killed the boy. He said he felt threatened and was only defending himself. The jury acquitted him.

More recently, a young white man named Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of murder charges in Kenosha, Wisconsin when he waded into a protest armed with an AR-15 and killed two unarmed men, wounding a third. Rittenhouse may have been the one armed with a semi-automatic rifle but he said he felt threatened by the protesters so he opened fire. The jury found that to be a reasonable reaction.

This interpretation of self-defense exists partly because the right has legalized carrying loaded firearms in public which makes any public confrontation potentially lethal. These cases are often based on “stand your ground” laws and a definition of “self-defense” that holds you can shoot someone if you merely “feel threatened,” which these incidents demonstrate. (Of course, it isn’t just a gun issue — a number of states have legalized using your car as a deadly weapon to kill protesters too. )

In America today, if you grab your loaded gun and go looking for trouble, there’s a good chance the law will be on your side rather than the person you shot. It was their poor judgment that led to their deaths by making the armed assailant feel afraid. It’s open season for vigilantes.

Naturally, Rittenhouse became a hero on the right and now appears on the wingnut grifting circuit as a spokesman for gun rights. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., even offered a bill to give him the Congressional Gold Medal, the institution’s highest honor. (She voted against giving the medal to the Capitol Police for their actions on January 6, however.) Zimmerman was also lionized, even auctioning off the gun he used in the attack allegedly for $250,000, but has also been in and out of trouble ever since it happened. Both cases were not about a deadly confrontation such as road rage or a personal beef. They were political acts.

This is the real agenda of the gun proliferation fetishists: The ability to be armed at all times and shoot their enemies with impunity.

Zimmerman was a civilian on some sort of half-baked neighborhood watch who saw a young Black kid walking down the street and assumed he was up to no good without any evidence at all. Rittenhouse drove miles from his home in a neighboring state to confront people who were protesting the police killing of an unarmed Black man. This is the real agenda of the gun proliferation fetishists: the ability to be armed at all times and shoot their enemies with impunity.

It hasn’t yet panned out across the board. The vigilante killing of jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia at the hands of three white men who chased him in a truck and shot him when he didn’t immediately comply with their order to stop ended with a guilty verdict on state murder charges and a federal conviction for a hate crime. And down in Texas, a would-be Kyle Rittenhouse named Daniel Perry was just convicted of murder for shooting a protester when he drove his car into a Black Lives Matter protest in June of 2020.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Perry, an Army sergeant and part-time Uber driver, had said on Facebook chats that he “might have to kill a few people on my way to work they are rioting outside my apartment complex” and said that he “might go to Dallas to shoot some protesters.” He’d even discussed with a friend how one could get away with it by claiming self-defense. His friend was disturbed enough that he appeared to try to talk him down saying, “We went through the same training … Shooting after creating an event where you have to shoot, is not a good shoot.” (His friend was correct.)

When they searched his computer they also found that he’d searched “protesters in Seattle get shot” and “riot shootouts.” On July 25, he drove his car into an Austin crowd where a protester named Garrett Foster, legally carrying a semi-automatic rifle walked toward his car and told him to back off. Perry shot him five times. Witnesses testified that Foster never raised his gun. It was recovered with the safety still on and no bullet in the chamber. Perry raised the state’s strong “stand your ground” law as his defense but even a Texas jury didn’t buy it. It was obvious that Perry had driven to the protest with a mind to shoot a protester and he did it. Even that daft law doesn’t cover premeditated murder. But leave it to Texas to bring a new level of extremism to this issue.

Rather than accept the verdict based upon all the evidence and a judge’s instructions about how to apply the law, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, promised to immediately pardon Perry even before the man has been sentenced. He’s just waiting for the required high sign from his hand-picked pardon and parole board. They aren’t too busy. Abbott only pardoned two people all last year.

Vigilantism is a very old story in America and one of its prominent characteristics has been that it always seems to be most prevalent when it is encouraged or condoned by political power and law enforcement. It’s most often been used against racial minorities, particularly Black Americans during the horrific post-Reconstruction period and Jim Crow all the way up to today. The echoes of that are all over these latest incidents, whether it’s the killing of Black people or the killing of white people protesting the killing of Black people.

Donald Trump sold himself as an avenging angel back in 2016, telling his crowds that he had a concealed carry permit and acting out fantasies about gunning down someone who threatened himself on the street. He gleefully led them in chants of “Death Wish” after the 1970s vigilante movie of that name. In 2020 he celebrated Kyle Rittenhouse and encouraged people to get violent with protesters. He is the perfect avatar for the right-wing movement that claims to be for law and order while it encourages lawlessness — by a select few — at every turn.  


Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar