The verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse case isn’t particularly shocking. The problematic conduct of the judge and prosecution team, the well-heeled defense Rittenhouse received, as well as what evidence was let in and what was excluded, show that there was no chance that the white teen who murdered two people and wounded a third would ever be convicted in a court of law.
There will be no Potstirrer Podcast episode specifically on this case. But there were a few points I would like to make.
- Seventeen-year old Trayvon Martin, who had an armed man follow and run up on him as he was walking home from buying snacks at a convenience store, was not considered to be acting in self-defense as he fought his attacker and was ultimately murdered. However, 17-year old Kyle Rittenhouse could obtain a rifle from his mother, be brought across state lines to protect property he did not own from a protest that was in line with the First Amendment, and shoot three people, and be considered to be acting in self-defense. As Americans, we need to start having real conversations about what “self-defense” actually means, and whether simply being in fear for one’s life is sufficient for snuffing out the life of another person.
- The past behaviors of the victims (and yes they were victims despite the ruling of the judge) were not relevant to the shooting. Rittenhouse had no way of knowing who he was shooting that night, so it’s easy to see the victims were not being targeted for being “bad” people. It’s simply a justification after the fact, and one that has apparently worked on much of the public (and perhaps the jury). The only reason to bring up the victims’ backgrounds was to portray them as the “less dead,” similar to the way conservative media portrays black Americans who are murdered at the hands of police or vigilantes, or murder victims who don’t fit the mold of a “perfect” victim. Which brings me to number 3…
- The skin color of the victims does not preclude a racial motive for the incident:
Regardless of whether or not you personally believe Rittenhouse should have been convicted (full disclosure, I do), the fact is that white supremacists and the far-right view the shooter as a hero and the acquittal as a win for their right to act as race soldiers – attacking and even killing protesters who are exercising their First Amendment rights. And the ability to defend oneself, to stand one’s ground, or to spring into action against an active shooter, depends on one’s perceived background, political affiliation and proximity to power. What the laws are, and who they apply to (and who they don’t!), change depending on who is involved. And that is an a precedent that places us all in extreme danger.