In Focus

America’s vigilante killings: a ‘terrifying trend’

‘This is not normal – or, for a people, sustainable’

“How the hell did we get here?” said Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post. When did America become this “hyped-up, trigger-happy, madder-than-hell” country where armed citizens are so quick to take the law into their own hands?

Two recent vigilante killing trials have highlighted this “terrifying trend”. In Wisconsin, 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty of murdering two men he shot dead during a racial justice protest in Kenosha. In Georgia, meanwhile, three men were last week found guilty of murdering 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, “for basically Jogging While Black”.

The men claimed that they had armed themselves because of recent burglaries in the area, and they thought Arbery looked like he could be the culprit. So they tracked and confronted him and he ended up dead. Just another victim of “armed goons” who seize any excuse to reach for their guns. “This is not normal – or, for a people, sustainable.”

If Americans are taking the law into their own hands, it’s because politicians are failing to do their job, said Glenn H. Reynolds in the New York Post. Rittenhouse went to Kenosha to guard businesses and help the injured during a night of arson and rioting. The state’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, had done little to secure the streets. He declined federal assistance and posted an inflammatory tweet blaming the police, which egged on the rioters. It was a clear failure of government.

The same goes for the tragedy last week in the city of Waukesha, Wisconsin, when a man drove into a parade, killing six people. The driver, Darrell E. Brooks Jr., was a repeat offender who had already been charged with deliberately running over his girlfriend at a petrol station – yet he had been released on just $1,000 bail. No wonder people have lost faith in the criminal justice system.

Gun advocates insist they’re a defence against lawlessness, said Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times, but Rittenhouse’s case destroys that argument. At every turn, his rifle made things worse. It’s why people started chasing him, and it’s why he shot three of them: he feared being overpowered and shot with his own gun. “This is self-defence as circular reasoning”: he used his rifle, he said, to protect himself and others. “What was he protecting everyone from? The gun strapped to his own body, the one he’d brought to keep everyone safe.”

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