CADY: Rittenhouse not ‘hero’, example of persisting white privilege

A+woman+holds+a+Justice+for+Jacob+sign+at+a+2020+Columbus+protest.+A+Photo+via+Flickr

A woman holds a ‘Justice for Jacob’ sign at a 2020 Columbus protest. A Photo via Flickr

The initial charges brought against Kyle Rittenhouse, a teenager who killed two men and injured others in Kenosha, Wisconsin during a protest were first-degree intentional homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree recklessly endangering safety, possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 and failure to comply with an emergency order. After nearly three and a half days of deliberation, the jury found Rittenhouse not guilty on all charges on Nov. 19.

This result spoke to two different Americas: one that believes that Rittenhouse was acting on behalf of his second amendment rights in self-defense and one that is disheartened by the evident double standard we are seeing in this country. The Rittenhouse verdict isn’t the beginning or the end of a movement for either, but it leads us to reflect on gun laws and racial disparities in America. This verdict sheds light on how deeply injustice runs in this country.

Prosecutors in the case began to see trouble when Rittenhouse was freed of his illegal firearm charge. Rittenhouse was a minor in possession of an AR-15 style rifle when he went to the protest in Kenosha. This protest in particular was for the shooting of Kenosha-native Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old man left paralyzed after being shot by police seven times in the back. 

However, Judge Bruce Schroeder granted the defense team a motion to dismiss the weapons charge. The argument being that Rittenhouse’s rifle barrel was longer than 16 inches, the minimum barrel length for a gun allowed under state law. Despite this, it is troubling that Rittenhouse was not eligible for even a misdemeanor considering the clarity of the word of the law: “Any person under 18 years of age who possesses or goes armed with a dangerous weapon is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.” 

One of the biggest issues with gun laws in America is how they are misunderstood. People often misinterpret the second amendment as being an unlimited right to bear arms. A common issue is that some people tend to feel that any legislation restricting the ownership or use of firearms is “unconstitutional.” This is far from true. Regulating the use of firearms in America is necessary to do the bare minimum to keep each other safe, and it is entirely constitutional.

Rittenhouse has been dubbed a hero among conservatives for not only countering a protest against police brutality, but also for his violence against those who opposed him. Rittenhouse was even nominated by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene for a Congressional Gold medal; the highest award from Congress which was previously given to Rosa Parks. Although this may seem ridiculous or even laughable to some, the rhetoric surrounding gun violence is concerning and should be taken seriously. Historian of white power movements at the University of Chicago Kathleen Belew said, “It has never taken more than a whisper of approval to fan the flames of militant right action. The Kenosha acquittal is a shout.” 

The most serious issue with the Rittenhouse verdict is how different things may have been if he were a person of color. Among the far right, he is a patriot, a man defending his country against rioting and protests. However, we’ve heard a very different story from those same people regarding injustice brought upon people of color.

In November 2014, Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, was fatally shot by police while holding a toy gun. The case was quickly criticized by many due to the faulty handling by police; specifically because Rice was shot by police within two seconds of their arrival, raising doubts that they made any effort to converse with him. Yet to some, this murder was justified. Many far-right conservatives  made comments blaming Rice for his death and suggesting that the police officer was right to shoot him.

In response to a 2015 Salon article about the shooting, the Free Republic, an Internet forum for self-described conservatives, left comments such as this: “Until black Americans teach their kids not to point toy guns at police officers, nothing will change.” The narrative of white men versus Black men who are violent couldn’t be more starkly different.

The portrayal of Rittenhouse according to conservatives and gun rights enthusiasts had it all wrong. Rittenhouse made the intentional decision to attend a protest he was not supposed to be at, armed with a gun he was not supposed to have and was emboldened by many for his actions. Rittenhouse shot three people, killing two, and was regarded with dignity and respect by not only many conservative Americans, but also by our former President Donald Trump.

None of this was heroic. It was not brave, bold, strong or dignified; it was violence for the sake of violence. The looseness of gun laws in America and the individual entitlement to use firearms recklessly are troublesome issues. More than that, it exposes the racism that exists in America despite how much many people may try to ignore it. The lack of accountability given to white-passing men who murder in America and the crucifixion of people of color, even in innocence, is our biggest issue following this verdict.

This story was written by Grace Cady. She can be reached at grace.cady@marquette.edu.