OPINION: Could a Rittenhouse Happen in Seattle?

by Geov Parrish 

In the wake of the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict, it’s worth asking: Could a right -wing vigilante shoot somebody and escape justice here in Seattle?

It’s already happened.

On Inauguration Day 2017, Donald J. Trump had just become the new president. His fans were giddy and professional right-wing troll Milo Yiannopoulos was invited by the University of Washington’s College Republicans to speak at Kane Hall. His controversial speaking tour had already triggered violent incidents on other campuses, and subsequent ones would ultimately derail his career as a right-wing provocateur.

Yiannopoulos’ s appearance in Seattle drew anti-fascist protesters as well as, of course, his admirers. Among the latter were Marc and Elizabeth Hokoana, a Ravenna couple who, with hundreds of others, didn’t get into the sold-out event. 

Marc Hokoana reportedly tried to pick fights with  protesters throughout the night. At some point during the tense and chaotic evening, a gunshot rang out, nearly killing Joshua Dukes, who was serving as a protest peacekeeper and had attempted to intervene in a melee Marc Hokoana allegedly started. Soon thereafter, Marc Hokoana turned himself into police, claiming he was the shooter and had been acting in self defense. But, as video footage later showed, he wasn’t the shooter; in fact, his wife,  Elizabeth Hokoana, had fired the shot. She later claimed she did this out of fear that Marc Hokoana was endangered. 

Both shooter and victim were white.

Just as in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Rittenhouse’s vigilantism resulted in the deaths of two people, UW Police made no effort to separate the warring factions, nor did they make any effort to arrest the apparent shooter on the night of the incident. The Hokoanas left the scene, and turned themselves in two hours later, but were not arrested at the time.

But there were also important differences. For one thing, Dukes survived. For another, Elizabeth Hokoana and her husband were eventually charged, but their trial ended in a mistrial; for ideological reasons, Dukes refused to press charges. Without his testimony, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg chose not to retry the case against the Hokoanas. But the net results were the same: Elizabeth Hokoana, like Kyle Rittenhouse, faced no legal consequences for her actions.

The political moment was also very different. The Kenosha shooting happened after four years’ worth of Trump inciting his rabid base, and the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, that fueled two previous nights of violent riots in a once-sleepy Kenosha. All of this took place against the backdrop of national protests over the murder of George Floyd  protests that forced prosecutors across the country to treat police and vigilante shootings more seriously. The Kenosha riots ensured that national media were already in town when the Rittenhouse shooting happened. The Seattle incident, by contrast, occurred in the relative obscurity of the wake of a stunning national election that still dominated news coverage.

So, yes, of course it can happen in Seattle. It already did. 

Historically, the American justice system has protected white perpetrators of  vigilante violence. It was a defining feature of the century-long reign of terror of the Jim Crow era. And I don’t just mean the thousands of Black lynchings that took place; white civil rights sympathizers and abolitionists were also targeted, including John Brown (executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia for five deaths during his failed raid on Harpers Ferry) and the 1963 Mississippi murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwener over a century later. Forty-one years after those killings, only one perpetrator, Edgar Ray Killen, was convicted of a crime in which 18 people were charged in a failed 1967 federal trial, including local police and sheriff’s deputies.

Moments where justice is at last achieved — like this year’s conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of Floyd — are the exception that proves the rule. And now, the pendulum seems to be swinging backwards. The current political climate, and the right wing’s explicit and enthusiastic embrace of vigilantism, are grave reminders that police violence isn’t the only thing we have to worry about, and nobody in the vast pantheon of right wing enemies is exempt. 

Not even in Seattle.

Geov Parrish is a Seattle-based writer and political strategist.

Featured image is attributed to Paul Becker under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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