Rittenhouse: will the jury provide accountability?

Anthony Lopez, Senior Writer

“You cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create”, the prosecution said during the closing arguments of Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial. It has been over a year since the tragic events in Kenosha lead to the murder of two and the injury of another at the hands of then 17-year old Rittenhouse. Living 20 miles out of Kenosha in Antioch, Ill., he took matters into his own hands to defend the property of a car dealership with a friend, though there are conflicting reports on whether his assistance was ever requested by the business owners.  

With the jury currently undergoing deliberation, this turbulent trial, one where Rittenhouse will be charged as an adult and could face a maximum sentence of life in prison, may soon see its uncertain conclusion. There is a also high likelihood that a young man who committed murder may walk free due to a convincing claim of self-defense, despite the prosecution’s efforts to declare his actions as anything but.

Rittenhouse’s actions cannot be viewed merely at face value. He was not simply a teenager who brandished a weapon in a turbulent crowd and fired it in a moment that he thought presented no other option. Instead, he went to protect a property that he did not own, in a state he did not live in, wielding a deadly weapon that he was prepared to use and which he subsequently did. This is a course of action incited by firm beliefs in a misguided pursuit of justice, one as ingrained in Rittenhouse as it has been in many others. Kenosha’s streets saw dozens more militia members serving as counter protestors, ranging from Boogaloo Bois to biker crews. What also must be discussed alongside his actions is the rhetoric that validated them and led countless to support him. 

When people defended Rittenhouse in the months following his arrest, they did not simply emphasize his youth or deem him assuredly regretful of his actions, regret that Rittenhouse clearly wished for the jury to see through each tear streaming down his cheek and every guttural sob echoing from the pit of his throat. The defenses made for Rittenhouse in the year since he murdered two and injured another was thus: what other option did he have but to take matters into his own hands when chaos unfurled in his country?

Of course, this justification is one that contorts and vilifies the protests that Rittenhouse embroiled himself in as an agitator, overlooking the necessity that they bore after generations of systemic oppression without recourse. It ignores the magnitude of a young white man walking through a crowd with an assault rifle during a particularly turbulent night. He wished to protect a business, Rittenhouse said, despite the owners claiming he was not requested to assist them. He was offering medical assistance to those he found injured and he was indeed pursued in the moments leading up to the shooting. But if he had not been in the state at all (and more importantly did not bear a deadly weapon) he would not have been targeted as he had. Rittenhouse placed himself in a situation that presented a likelihood of him having to use his gun. Why are we surprised that his presence lead to multiple deaths?

The toxic rhetoric that followed the murders was not dissimilar to what came before it. Throughout the months of last year that saw countless protests across the country, there was an incessant insistence that those on the street marching for Black Lives Matter “are not peaceful protestors; they are violent rioters and looters.” The cause of the protests, ones that cry out for accountability to the black lives lost to the police, was ignored in favor of squalling about the destruction of gas stations and Targets. Why should we be shocked that Rittenhouse deemed his presence in Kenosha essential?

Rittenhouse is not the only young man to bear similarly potent and dangerous ideologies, and he was not the only vigilante to flock to Kenosha on that night. But he was the one who took his rifle, travelled from another state in the name of protecting property and subsequently killed two people. The rhetoric has been palpable and convincing for many, and it may translate to a conclusion wherein Rittenhouse is exonerated. If so, the people he murdered will almost certainly not be granted justice. Even the charge of gun possession, one that, if found guilty, would have led to a maximum sentence of nine months in prison for Rittenhouse, was dismissed over loopholes in the stipulated law and a discussion over the gun barrel’s length.

In fact, the entire case against Rittenhouse was already on uncertain standing, not due to a lack of severity in his crimes, but due to the potential bias that had patently seeped into the trial. Judge Schroeder blocked the prosecutors from describing those murdered and injured by Rittenhouse as “victims”, stipulating that calling them “rioters” or “arsonists” were more acceptable terms with the proper evidence presented to justify their use. Much of Schroeder’s behavior throughout the trial indicated an altogether high likelihood of Rittenhouse’s exoneration, confronting the prosecution on numerous occasions. When the prosecutor attempted to readmit evidence of footage that allegedly presented Rittenhouse’s voice indicating his desire to shoot several nearby shoplifters if he was carrying his weapon, Schroeder vehemently refused.  

This sort of inflammatory bias does not rest with the judge, and the beliefs that compelled Rittenhouse to travel across state lines with a deadly weapon are not felt by him alone. It is part of a widespread issue where sympathy and understanding is granted to civilians taking matters into their own hands, so long as they chant for “Blue Lives Matter” and not “Black Lives Matter”. Few of those that defended Rittenhouse with such vehemence ever granted that same deference to the peaceful protestors, and that can not be ignored.

It is difficult to be certain on where the jury may lean. For now, the least that can happen is a growing understanding of what sort of vile rhetoric inspired Rittenhouse to take action and how to resist it. He was not the only one to blame for the tragic events that night in Kenosha, but he was the one who pulled the trigger and accountability demands to be had. 

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