Kyle Rittenhouse, Ahmaud Arbery, Teachable Moments and Things That Are More Precious Than Life

Recently the president of the university where I teach accounting and finance to the CEOs and CFOs of tomorrow sent an email announcement following the verdicts in the Kyle Rittenhouse and Ahmaud Arbery cases. I applaud the president for issuing statements in response to high profile matters in the news. I think it sends a message to our campus that our world of education is not isolated from the broader activities and happening in our society.

However, in his comments the president stated some things that to me lessened his message. Twice in his lengthy email me he mentioned “teachable moments.” He said, “Whatever your thoughts are on the results of these trials, there is no denying that they are dominating the national conversation at the moment and providing us all with important teachable moments.”

He then followed that a little later in the text by saying “Let us use these trials as teachable moments, rather than fodder for more arguments and strife.”

What are these teachable moments? I am curious. If there are teachable moments from these cases, I want to know what those teachable moments are. I am disappointed he did not share those teachable moments with us. So, I will provide my teachable moments.

I think there are huge teachable moments from both trials. One teachable moment is that despite its flaws, our justice system works. We may not agree with all verdicts but day in and day out our system prosecutes the accused and either convicts them, or not, before a jury of citizens. And most of those criminal prosecutions occur without headlines and without the interference of politicians and others in position of power, as everyday people who work in the justice system do their jobs.

Another teachable moment is that our justice system has improved. I think most Americans would agree that in years gone by the court system may have favored the accused if the accused was white and the victim was black. We may never know the degree to which our system may have been unjust to people of color in the past, but the results of at least one of these cases suggest the system has improved and that a black person can get justice. And it is also a teachable moment for those few remaining bigots who think they can get away with crimes because they are white.

A third teaching moment is that some of the basic tenants of our constitution still live. Our constitution was written with the belief that individuals had the right to protect themselves from both the people who are out to do them harm and from an overreaching government. The jury confirmed that the tenet of self-defense still lives.

The president then said something else in his message. He said, “Nothing is more precious than life.” I wonder exactly what he meant with that statement. And whose life is he talking about? History, both recent and past, are full of examples of humans making decisions to do something that ended their lives, for what they believed was a greater good or objective. The examples of self-sacrifice are bountiful and include such people as the African American John R. Fox who in World War II called for an artillery barrage on the very position where he was located. Afterwards his fellow soldiers found his body surrounded by some 100 dead Germans.

Patrick Henry, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, is famous for say: “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” One of the constructs of the United States is that freedom is more precious than life, that it is worth fighting and dying for. Members of the US military, about the same age as most of my students, volunteered to storm the beaches of Normandy to preserve the very freedom that many of us hold so dear and that unfortunately others take for granted.

I am sorry but I disagree. There are some things that are more precious than life. Freedom, liberty, self-determination, dignity, justice, and honor are all more precious than life in certain circumstances. I am sure others could add to this list.

Finally, the president makes this statement: “Consequently, I remain stubbornly hopeful in my belief that through shared experience and thoughtful reflection, humanity can overcome our persistent troubles with race and class and make more progress in challenging the biases and assumptions we harbor about others who are different.”

That’s a nice statement. But let’s forget about humanity. That includes seven billion people all over the globe, many of whom are engaged in, and have been engaged in for centuries, “persistent troubles with race and class.” Rather, let’s concern ourselves with the United States. By all evidence, the United States is the least racist country on the planet. We have people of all colors, religions, races, ethnicities, and even classes who live in complete harmony with each other, who enjoy the richness that many cultures bring to our country, and who spend their days providing for their families and enjoying time with friends.

Maybe “we” don’t harbor all of the biases and assumptions about other who are different that our university president thinks we do. You might be interested to know that the president of my university is African American and was hired in 2018 at a salary, including a housing and car allowance, of $396,000 per year.

Do we really need to “overcome our persistent troubles with race and class” or rather do we need to start celebrating what we have already accomplished and recognize for the vast majority of Americans, including the president of my university, these “persistent troubles with race and class” no longer exist?