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Perspective: Who feels let down by the criminal justice system?

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Last Friday, Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted on all counts. A Morning Consult poll showed that 15% of White respondents felt the innocent verdict made them less confident in the criminal justice system, while 52% of African Americans felt the same.

Why do African Americans generally feel let down by the criminal justice system? This is an historical question that requires us to consider how Blacks have been treated in courts and the popular culture. After all, according to a series of studies by the American Psychological Association, Black men are typically seen as more dangerous, a stereotype that has persisted since before Emancipation. Other reports repeatedly show African Americans are disproportionately tried as adults, convicted for first offenses, serve longer sentences, and more likely to be falsely convicted than their White counterparts. I rarely see those who say we don’t need to talk about racism adequately explain those trends.

Here’s the thing folks. If you do not understand the real history of the maltreatment of African Americans in criminal justice, even when arguing self-defense or stand your ground, then it is hard to understand Black skepticism and racism. Unfortunately, millions of White Americans have no interest in learning that history, but still question why we need to talk about racism! What that says to millions is they don’t care about the history, the reality, the feelings, nor the future of African Americans and our national racial conscience.

So, would Kamal Rittenhouse have been found innocent given the same merits of the case? We can only guess, but having the requisite knowledge about such things allows us to make a more educated guess.

I am Joseph Flynn, and that is my perspective.

Joseph Flynn is the executive director for equity and inclusion in the Division of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and an associate professor of curriculum and instruction.