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2021: The Year When Trial by Jury Was Put to The Test and Succeeded

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A functional judicial system is one of the fundamental cornerstones of any functional democracy. A trial by jury, where both the prosecution and the defense can have a fair and open trial where the weight of the evidence and the law (not politics) is the ultimate factor that decides whether someone is guilty or not of a crime. It is the last line of defense that citizens have to make sure their rights are respected. In 2021, the U.S. judicial system was put to the test with three highly followed trials, and despite an ever toxic political climate, the courts did what they are supposed to do: render verdicts based on the law.

The trials of Dereck Chauvin, Kyle Rittenhouse, and the killers of Ahmaud Arbery were covered by both the media and the political zeitgeist (either fairly or unfairly) as proxies of the eternal debate over race in America. Liberals and progressives were quick to shape the debate over the trial arguing that a verdict in which they did not agree would be a clear sign of systemic racism, while some conservatives also viewed the cases through political lenses, automatically opposing whatever side the liberals were on.

However, the trials went on, the juries deliberated and the decisions were fair and took no attention to the general political rhetoric engulfing the nation. Based on the evidence, and beyond reasonable doubt, Dereck Chauvin was guilty of killing George Floyd, Kyle Rittenhouse acted in self-defense, and the people who killed Ahmaud Arbery will face prison time.

Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges earlier this month (image taken from youtube)

The Dereck Chauvin and Arbery cases show the flaws in extreme progressive rhetoric

Former police officer Dereck Chauvin, a white police officer, killed George Floyd, a black man, last year after he stood more than eight minutes with his knee on Chauvin’s neck, a heinous act that caused nationwide protests. Ahmaud Arbery, another black man, was chased and murdered by three white private citizens who claimed they were enforcing a citizens’ arrest in Georgia.

If America is an irreparably racist country that has barely improved since the terrible days of Jim Crow, then the outcome of both trials should be obvious and all four men would walk away scot-free. However, this was not the case, Chauvin was found guilty and sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison and the killers of Arbery have been found guilty, with their sentence yet to be determined.

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For those who argue that there has been little to no progress in race relations in American and that the Chauvin trial shows no real progress on that front, I ask the following questions: Would it be possible for a white police officer to be convicted for killing a black man in the 1960s, furthermore, could you say that three white men in the South would be convicted for chasing and killing an African American in the 1950s? The answer is a clear and obvious no.

The United States has had a terrible past in the way it treated African Americans, and there are clearly still many challenges to surpass, no one is contesting that. However, if the trials of Chauvin and the killers of Mr. Arbery show something, is that America has improved significantly over the years.

Derek Chauvin, El American
Derek Chauvin was convicted for the murder of George Floyd last year (EFE)

The Rittenhouse trial showed that trial by jury obeys no political narratives

If the Chauvin and Arbery trials showed that for progressives the judicial system can deliver justice to African Americans, the Rittenhouse trial showed conservatives that the courts do not bend to the pressure of public opinion or liberal outrage, something that was argued by Tucker Carlson after the Chauvin verdict. Kyle Rittenhouse was in Kenosha last year, as the city was consumed in violent protests after the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer, where Rittenhouse shot and killed two people and wounded another.

Rittenhouse was quickly labeled a vigilante, the prosecution tried to paint him as an active shooter, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden included footage of Rittenhouse when condemning white supremacists, and the city of Kenosha braced itself for riots in case the jury decided that Rittenhouse was not guilty.

Despite the media and political narrative around the Rittenhouse trial, and even with some fearing civil unrest in case of an acquittal, the jury reached a clear verdict based on the evidence and the rule of law. Based on Wisconsin law, Rittenhouse acted in self-defense and was declared not guilty of all charges.

The judicial system faced a test of fire in 2021, with both the right and the left ready to argue that the entire system was rigged against them, however, the jury by trial remained firm, it delivered verdicts that defied political narratives. As astonishing as it might seem today, the jury clearly stated that political messaging and culture wars have no place in a court of law.

Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.