The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
- On Aug. 25, 2020, during a police brutality protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Kyle Rittenhouse, a (then) 17-year old from Illinois, shot three men, killing two, in an alleged stance of self-defense.
- Rittenhouse had crossed state lines from Illinois into Wisconsin, illegally in possession of an AR-15 with what he claims was for his protection. He says he was there to protect property and “help people.”
- Two days later, Rittenhouse was charged with five felony counts and a misdemeanor, amongst the charges are two counts of first-degree intentional homicide, which hold life sentences if convicted.
- His bail was set at $2 million, an amount paid for through online fundraising by conservative supporters of Rittenhouse.
- Kyle Rittenhouse plead not guilty to all charges on Jan. 5, 2021
- His trial started Nov. 1, 2021 and on Nov. 19, after 25 hours of jury deliberation, Rittenhouse was acquitted on all five felony accounts.
Similar to almost every high-profile case to hit national news, Rittenhouse’s trial sparked political and social discussion, raising questions regarding the Second Amendment and racial bias in the justice system. As the liberal left made Kyle out to be a homicidal villain, the conservative right sensationalized him in the opposite way, framing him as a protective vigilante, hailing him an American hero who took up arms against violent rioters destroying property. His bail was fundraised alongside hundreds of thousands in legal fees by pro-gun and conservative groups who rallied behind the charged teen as a champion of the second amendment. Since his acquittal, Rittenhouse has been offered jobs by at least three Republican members of congress, his only qualification being acquitted of homicide.
Yet, his ability to march into another state with an AR-15 on his back, hold a conversation with police and be at the receiving end of their appreciation, had social activists quick to point out the double standard in the treatment and prosecution of white men relative to their POC counterparts. The acquittal was an affront to the very protest where the shootings took place, a bitterly ironic display of how law enforcement views different “threats”: a man who had barely started to turn towards police versus an underaged teen holding an AR-15. The activists argued that had he been Black, Rittenhouse’s treatment and verdict would likely have been different, an opinion that I share myself. Although I’d go further to say that there would be no case of self-defense, as almost no Black man with common sense would converse with the police with a rifle on their back without expecting some type of accusatory questioning.
At the end of the day, the socio-political question of race and its influence was not on the stand. The jury was meant to deliberate whether or not the law was broken and the burden of dismantling the self-defense claim fell to the prosecution, who was hindered by the disallowance by the judge to refer to those killed as “victims” and the prohibition of certain evidence. The verdict is final, a win for pro-gun advocates and a loss for the families of the victims.
Not guilty, however, does not equate innocence. Kyle Rittenhouse had no business having the rifle nor crossing into Wisconsin past curfew in the first place, provocative actions that were simply ignored in the verdict. The trial came to symbolize the racial disparities in criminal cases and serve as a reminder that leaving things to this system does not guarantee justice. Rittenhouse’s acquittal sets a dangerous precedent for the circumstances in which a person can claim self-defense, and one can’t help but wonder if the verdict would have been the same if the person behind the trigger wasn’t a white man.