Imagine that, to skirt the law, teenager José Méndez asks a friend to buy him a semiautomatic rifle and then decides to cross the border to another state. What would happen if while there, geared up with his new AR-15, he declares himself a vigilante protector “of the good guys” and shoots three people? Well, I’ll tell you: when the police arrive, it will be difficult for José to get out of that one alive. Who then would believe the tall tale where José is declared “innocent” and praised as a “defender” of a community where he does not even live, and as “a very sweet young man”?
This is exactly what has just happened, except that the boy’s name, of course, is not José but Kyle. Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal has been heavy for minority communities. Any abuelita of ours could call it: “Kyle, ‘that little angel,’ traveled far to seek a brawl, primed to kill.” The case is a classic example of how our country affords the benefit of the doubt to “white” owners of firearms but denies it daily to young Latino or Black men. They are branded as thugs, and the police shoot first and ask questions later.
I often remember the 2018 incident when a 22-year-old was shot and killed in his family’s private backyard because Sacramento police responded to information that someone vandalized cars in the neighborhood. Officers decided the boy was carrying a threatening weapon instead of what he was actually carrying — his cell phone. Of course the victim’s name was Stephon, not Kyle, and he was Black.
What worries me most as a Latina mother is that Kyle’s verdict emboldens extremists and law enforcement officers who view our youth as a threat. This dangerous environment speaks of the racism, xenophobia and distilled hatred that the Republican Party provides as an excuse for those who resent the demographic transformation of our nation to a more diverse country. They work assiduously to make voting more difficult wherever organized minority communities exist. When they speak of freedom, they mean only for themselves. Kyle up; José down.
Why are our kids not “sweet”? Malice, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. When those eyes see minority youth as criminals, the consequences are deadly and independent of the facts of the case. Every time you vote, remember.
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