On Friday, after nearly 27 hours of deliberation over four days, the jury in the Kyle Rittenhouse case came back with a verdict. They found the 18-year-old not guilty on all five counts he was charged with: first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree attempted intentional homicide and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment.
While it is staggering that none of the charges came back as the prosecution intended, and that the jury refused to consider lesser versions of some of the counts, this verdict should not surprise us.
Rittenhouse was not held accountable for killing two people and injuring a third because the criminal justice system refuses to criminalize white men who act on behalf of the interests of white supremacy.
Rittenhouse was 17 years old in August of 2020 when he crossed state lines from his hometown in Antioch, Ill. to Kenosha, Wis., armed with an AR-15-style rifle. He traveled to Kenosha during a moment of protest following the shooting of Jacob Blake and testified that his intention was to help protect private property.
During his time at the protest, Rittenhouse shot and killed two people, Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded 27-year-old Gaige Grosskreutz.
The case appears clear. Rittenhouse, a teenage civilian, went to a gathering of people with a high-grade weapon — and because of his actions two peoples lives were prematurely ended. His acquittal in this case, however, stems from the presumed innocence he has within the legal system, an escape-hatch Rittenhouse’s defense team utilized through his argument of self-defense.
Rittenhouse is not the first white person to cry self-defense and deflect from their destructive actions. He falls into a larger pattern of white vigilantism that is supported by white supremacist interests and condoned by the United States' legal system.
The typical victims of white violence that gain national attention are Black.
Again and again, we’ve seen police officers and civilians alike be acquitted.
George Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch volunteer acquitted of fatally shooting Trayvon Martin in 2013.
Darren Wilson was a police officer cleared twice of charges for his murder of Michael Brown.
After Dylann Roof killed nine people in a church, police officers bought him Burger King.
Officer Rusten Sheskey, responsible for paralyzing Jacob Blake and sparking the protest where Rittenhouse killed two people, was not charged.
The trial for Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan, the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery while he was out for a run, is still ongoing. They are using the same self-defense argument as Rittenhouse.
The outrage on these decisions are partially colored by racial dynamics. But it’s also clear that when white men break laws and inflict harm on others, there are little to no repercussions. Additionally, the structure of the laws in some states allows deadly force to be used if a person believes they will be in danger of being harmed. These aforementioned suspects can wiggle free from accountability because they are white — and more easily believed as innocent and acting in self-defense.
Even when a self-defense argument is irrelevant, white people are more likely to be dealt a get-out-of-jail-free card by the legal system. The riot in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 of this year was an act of domestic terrorism. Though almost 700 individuals have been criminally charged, at least ten attendees were elected to office this year. The stain of the insurrection, which resulted in the injury of at least 140 members of law enforcement and the death of five people, was not enough to block them from state legislatures and local positions.
Although all of the cases have not been completed and all arrests have not been made, it’s easy to anticipate similar slaps on the wrist for these individuals who are protected by their whiteness — despite the magnitude of their crimes.
These same protections are not guaranteed for Black suspects, both within and outside the system.
George Floyd was suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill and within 20 minutes of being in police custody, he was dead.
Kalief Browder was detained in Rikers Island for 3 years without ever going to trial after being falsely accused of stealing a backpack.
A little over a year after killing two people, Kyle Rittenhouse will return to his normal life. It is no surprise then, that there is a racial divide over trust in the criminal justice system. The same laws don’t seem to apply to everyone.
And it doesn’t help when white vigilantes that dance on the boundaries of the laws are supported by police that are supposed to enforce it. Rittenhouse, along with other armed white men on the ground in Kenosha, were welcomed and “appreciated” by police officers. The self-proclaimed militia was non-threatening to officers because they aligned with their agenda — suppressing social justice movements interested in racial equality that threaten the tyrannical authority of law enforcement.
In a statement, Anthony Huber’s family expressed their heartbreak that the individual who killed their son would go free. “It sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence, and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street,” they said.
Their assessment of the verdict is correct, though I’d like to add that only a certain type of individual can get away with these actions followed by no accountability.
Being surprised at this verdict is useless. Rittenhouse did nothing wrong in the eyes of the law — and his lack of punishment reflects that. It doesn’t represent a flaw in the system because it was rigged to protect him.
Rittenhouse will survive this moment unscathed. We know how this story ends. Perhaps he will become a judge, a lawyer, a congressman or a senator, empowered to protect the next generation of young white men that remain free to harm whomever they wish with absolutely no repercussions or legal forms of accountability to stand in their way.
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