A year and a half ago was the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Blake, a Black man, was unjustifiably shot seven times and severely injured by a police officer.
Three months prior, George Floyd was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minnesota.
In the months in between, Black Lives Matter protests were rampant across the nation, bringing attention to the racial disparities within the criminal justice system. The shooting of Blake was the epitome of why thousands were protesting.
Amidst the protest for Blake in Kenosha, then-17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse fatally shot two people and injured one.
This week, the jury found Rittenhouse not guilty on all (five) charges regarding this incident. At the forefront of a superficial description, does this verdict come as a surprise?
Rittenhouse himself collapsed to the ground after the jury’s verdict was announced, indicating that it might have been a surprise to him.
The sequence of events, in nearly its entirety, was recorded as it happened – clear enough to see that Rittenhouse shot three people, killing two.
Nonetheless, Rittenhouse dodged charges of murder under the argument of self defense. The said video also exhibited multiple people charging toward him.
Rittenhouse additionally testified that he attended the protest with the intention to protect others and their property.
Although it is illegal for a minor to possess a “dangerous weapon” in Wisconsin, Rittenhouse’s lawyers discovered a loophole from a 1991 bill that would dismiss him from the charge.
Presiding over this trial, Judge Bruce Schroeder has previously been criticized for biases. For instance, before the trial began, Schroeder announced that those who were killed or injured weren’t allowed to be called “victims.” However, defense lawyers were permitted to refer to them as “looters” or “rioters.”
By these means, Rittenhouse was acquitted. Despite the deaths and injuries that trace directly back to him, and the open-carry of an AR-15 as a minor, he will walk free.
With a closer look at the loopholes and circumstances of this trial, this verdict doesn’t come as a surprise. Instead, it points to a greater hole in the American criminal justice system.
Rittenhouse is a white man who, by way of the Wisconsin courtroom, was able to dodge the charges that would have sent him to prison for life.
The police worked in his favor. The judge worked in his favor. The jury worked in his favor. Everyone involved in the courtroom strived to help Rittenhouse escape these charges.
If the perpetrator was a Black man, would it have gone the same way? Would there have been the same push to save a Black man?
Black men are disproportionately imprisoned and charged heavily for even smaller crimes.
Black men like Jacob Blake are innocently shot on scene by police officers, whereas Rittenhouse was able to kill two people and get acquitted in the name of self defense.
Rittenhouse pleaded not guilty for self defense, yet placed himself into the situation and purposefully attended the protest.
While he claimed he attended the protest to upkeep safety, it wasn’t his responsibility to put that role into his own hands. Already present at the protest were police, EMS and medics – whose job is to do that.
There was no place nor need for Rittenhouse to assist them with an AR-15 in hand. His actions were reckless and negligent – from crossing state borders for the protest, to obtaining and carrying an AR-15, to shooting multiple people.
Rittenhouse had no business going to a protest to “keep it safe.” He had no business stepping in where he wasn’t needed. He had no business carrying around an AR-15, nor actively using it in a situation that he put himself into.
With all of this, he would have escaped the fact that he killed people in the first place. Yet, despite his recklessness that could’ve been prevented, he was acquitted anyway.
Meanwhile, Black men who were either innocent or committed crimes with far less recklessness continue to face consequences.
Our criminal justice system is skewed, intricately protecting the majority while toppling over others. It’s a long-standing American tradition to have a rigged criminal justice system in order to protect people like Rittenhouse.
Is it teaching future generations of white men that there’s a way to escape the consequences of their own actions?
If the criminal justice system worked in favor of Rittenhouse after he shot three people, then why doesn’t it work in favor for all?