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  • Writer's pictureJulie Banks Lewis

Kyle Rittenhouse has been found "Not Guilty"! Now What?

Jury says "self-defense." And, self-defense may just allow folks to get away with homicide?

On Friday, November 19th, after 25 hours of deliberation, the jury in the Kyle Rittenhouse case returned a verdict. Rittenhouse, who had been accused and indicted for five first-degree felony counts, including intentional and reckless homicide, attempted intentional homicide, and two counts of recklessly endangering safety, was acquitted of all charges; he was found to be not guilty. Rittenhouse claimed he was defending himself from the two men he killed, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and the one he injured, Gaige Grosskreutz.

According to Wisconsin law in a case such as this, where a defendant claims self-defense as an affirmative defense to homicide, he is essentially saying, "Yes, I killed and injured those men, but I did it because I had to defend myself against uncertain death if I hadn't, so I'm not guilty." Thus, if the jury returns a not guilty verdict, the defendant is absolved of all charges. So, in effect, the defendant was completely within his rights to cross state lines as a seventeen-year-old, white male, gain possession of a semi-automatic rifle, and ride rough-shod over the locals who were demonstrating against the use of excessive force by police in the shooting of Jacob Blake.

Rittenhouse's presence in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was said to be in defense of property and to offer first-aid, though the two don't appear at first glance to be complementary activities. The three men shot by Rittenhouse were smeared by mainstream media, in an effort to somehow indicate they got what they deserved. Because, apparently, at some point in recent history, common people, acting in a vigilante capacity have been implicitly approved to act as executioners because the judge and the jury will find no fault with their actions.

How is this possible? Are we simply following the letter of the law? Do the laws serve the people? Which people? In applying sociological inquiries of Who Wins, Who Loses, and Who Decides, perhaps we may have a better understanding.

To begin with, there are three truths fundamental to any conversation of right/wrong, good/bad, and reward/punishment: 1) those in power are always right and good and will always receive the rewards, 2) those in power will always decide the level of bad and wrong and of the punishment to be imposed, 3) those in power in America have historically been male, white, propertied, heterosexual, and (professed) Christian/Catholic/Jewish. And, as one might expect, those in power are the same people who always win, who always decide, and who determine who loses and how all others are either rewarded or punished within American society.

Kyle Rittenhouse was able to present as the victim, even though he was the one on trial, by using a "privileged" defense. Curiously, once he entered the plea of self-defense he was all but assured the jury would decide in his favor. The power dynamics in the courtroom were almost palpable with Judge Bruce Schroeder asserting his authority over the prosecution post haste, informing them that they were not to refer to the men who were shot by Rittenhouse as "victims." This is an important point, because if the men were not "victims," then they were in the wrong, and he could reasonably expect to need to defend himself against them, the wrong-doers. However, the defense could and would refer to the three as rioters and looters, and bring in the social histories of the men, especially as could make them appear to be "bad" men even though the references had no bearing on the case at hand. To be fair, I had a very difficult time writing this article without using the term "victim", because in my mind and millions of others, that is exactly what they were, victims. They were victims of a child who was handed a semi-automatic weapon ostensibly for hunting. But, people don't hunt people. But, it was important, you see to have Rittenhouse appear the victim so the self-defense plea would seem reasonable. Additionally, when Judge Schroeder decided to dismiss the misdemeanor charge of carrying a firearm under the age of 18, it allowed Rittenhouse to use the self-defense plea. You see, had the Judge not dismissed that crime, self-defense could not have been entered as an affirmative plea. The convoluted language of Wisconsin's gun law regarding those under the age of 18 carrying or using firearms is clear enough, as it clearly states if under the age of 18, it is a crime.

Rittenhouse is a prime example of our social system's white privilege, white supremacy, and white laws intersecting, interacting, and fortifying one another. Some may say, but the folks he shot were white, so race is a non-issue. But, the important thing to remember here is that he went into the demonstration space where the people were protesting police brutality against black people, defending black people, so it is reasonable to assume that Rittenhouse was on the offensive, he was a provocateur, promoting law and order over "rioters" and "looters". This boy essentially puffed out his chest and gathered confidence and pomposity by being a white male with a semi-automatic rifle, albeit not a sawed-off shotgun. He anticipated a fight and was met by people throwing plastic bags and wielding skateboards, I digress; one had a hand gun. Is it not reasonable to believe the three men were, in fact, victims of Rittenhouse and the police forces that stood idly by, that it was they, the demonstrators, who were in fear for their lives and for the lives of all the demonstrators, and therefore, they were acting in self-defense?!? But, no, the three men shot by Rittenhouse were judged to be in the wrong and he in the right, they were bad and he who stood, walked around, knelt, stumbled with, raised up, and then pulled the trigger of his buddy's semi-automatic rifle killing two and injuring one, he is good.

Rittenhouse's mother speaking recently to the press, stated that there were no winners because her son Kyle has remorse. And, judging by his melodramatic behavior while recounting the events which led to him shooting and killing two and injuring one, he's assumedly moved to tears, not because of what he did, not because those men are injured and dead, but because he was afraid for his life and the memory of the hunt/chase was traumatizing for him. But, really, if, as is being assumed, he is a reasonable person, he should have expected to be met with some resistance. I mean, come on!! Rittenhouse most assuredly won, as he has been vindicated in his actions. Those three men, who attempted to disarm him, risking their lives, and two of them losing their lives, they lost. And, those who decided, well, all but one member of the jury were white, and the one person of color was of Hispanic descent, not Black.

SO, Now What?!?

So, now, the white men who chased down, shot, and killed Ahmaud Arbery have a defense for their actions? And, his death, too, will be assuaged because three white men were just defending themselves. If these cases don't demonstrate the deficiencies and inadequacies, the downright white male privileges written into American law, then a stronger microscope is needed. Who Wins, Who Loses, Who Decides?!?

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