Rittenhouse verdict another reminder that change is necessary

By Emma Reilly
Opinion Editor

Kyle Rittenhouse shot three white men, killing two, during demonstrations in Kenosha, Wis. in Aug. 2020. The now 18-year-old white man was acquitted on Nov. 19, 2021 of five felony charges related to the shooting. The recent verdict — innocent on all counts — highlights once more how fraught race relations in America truly are. Though the jury found Rittenhouse innocent on the basis that of self-defense, the facts of the case are complex.

Protests in Kenosha arose after white police officer Rusten Sheskey shot and injured a Black man named Jacob Blake on Aug. 23, 2020. Looting and property destruction occurred as demonstrators flocked to the Wisconsin city and remained there for several days.

The shooting for which Rittenhouse is responsible took place on the third day of demonstrations in Kenosha. According to The New York Times, Rittenhouse arrived in Kenosha with a semiautomatic rifle and medical kit in tow, claiming to be armed for the sake of self-defense and the protection of businesses.

Rittenhouse was part of a group who “organized on Facebook and vowed to protect the city and assist the police and National Guard members, who appeared outnumbered,” The New York Times said.

As the demonstrations curtailed, Rittenhouse was chased by Joseph Rosenbaum, who fired a gun into the air. Rittenhouse shot and killed Rosenbaum. Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz were also shot as they pursued Rittenhouse; Huber was killed.

The case indicates that “the legitimate grievances of Black Americans about disparities in policing must be addressed,” Gary Abernathy from The Washington Post said.

If there is anything that should remain in the minds of Americans as they come to terms with the Rittenhouse verdict, it is that reality.

Rittenhouse, who was underage at the time, was toting around a deadly assault weapon. He killed two people in supposed defense of himself and the policing forces present in Kenosha.

According to Eddie Gaude from The Washington Post, “we contort ourselves to evade the obvious: that no Black teenage boy…would be treated…like Rittenhouse. He would be dead.”

No matter your opinion on gun legislation, protests, or former President Trump — all of which have become relevant to media coverage of the case — the fact of the matter is that police and judicial institutions in America treat Black people differently than white people.

That is not something we should ignore. Yet, the Rittenhouse verdict makes it clear that many continue to turn the other cheek to reality.

According to Gaude, the declaration of Rittenhouse’s innocence by the Kenosha County Circuit Court stems from the idea of so-called white innocence. By presenting Rittenhouse as a victim of media bias and mob intimidation, America’s governing bodies distorted the narrative of the shooting and perpetuated a damaging unreality.

Two men were killed and Rittenhouse is not being held responsible. On top of that, the heart of the matter still remains: Black Americans face disproportionate levels of violence and intimidation at the hands of both the police and the courts.

As disappointing as the verdict may be for some, it is important not to be consumed by it when there are much larger issues at play. Racial injustice and violence occur in America all too frequently, and the Rittenhouse decision is just a small part of that.

Nevertheless, America needs to learn to recognize and dismantle the idea of white innocence, and inform ourselves on how it played out in this case is as good a place to start as any.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Featured Photo Caption: The unrest in Kenosha, Wis. Last year resulted in the destruction of property across the city.

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