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*CONTENT WARNING: This article contains discussion about gun violence.*
In Aug. 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse was charged with homicide, attempted homicide, and reckless endangerment. 15 months later, after three and a half days of deliberation, a grand jury found him not guilty on all charges.
Over the past year, the Rittenhouse trial has made headlines in association with both the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the age-old debate surrounding the second amendment right to bear arms in the US. More recently, the jury’s verdict has sparked conversations on social media about the current legal system and how it unfairly protects some while penalizing others.
Rittenhouse was charged for shooting his AR-style semi-automatic rifle during the Kenosha protests, which were taking place in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white Kenosha police officer. The incident killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and severely wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, who were attending the protests.
For a system that claims to fight for justice, it would appear that even in the 21st century, white people continue to have a leg up. Today, Kyle Rittenhouse walks free without facing any consequences for the loss(es) of life he was responsible for. While Rittenhouse received a fair trial, following the official guidelines set out in the constitution, people of colour are too often denied the same.
Many have drawn comparisons between the Kyle Rittenhouse case and Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was killed by a Cleveland police officer in 2014 for playing with a toy gun at a local park. Both Rittenhouse and Rice were underage when law enforcement found them holding firearms. Rittenhouse was charged and eventually acquitted, while Rice’s actions (which were completely legal) cost him his life. In both cases, the white men responsible for shooting their victims walked away scot-free.
Furthermore, there are some gaps in Rittenhouse’s trial that have yet to be filled in. Rittenhouse has gone on record saying that he attended the protests in Kenosha to protect property from being destroyed by rioters. However, since the beginning of his trial, his legal team has claimed that he was acting in self-defence. This is what the jury ultimately accepted as the truth, but it’s still unclear to the public: was he protecting the property or was he protecting himself? More importantly, would a person of colour have gotten away with a flawed defence like his?
The Rittenhouse case has once again exposed how the current legal system not only allows but supports white defendants seeking to escape accountability. This verdict has reminded me, and people of colour everywhere, that our credibility will always be limited by the colour of our skin and that unlike our white counterparts, we are not innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.