In August 2020, Black Lives Matter protests began after Wisconsin police shot Jacob Blake, a black man, seven times in the back. On the third night of the protests Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old from Illinois, shot at three men using a semi-automatic rifle. Two of them were killed, and the third was left seriously injured. Clearly, this act of murder was motivated by white-supremacy and vigilantism, again highlighting the racism problem in America, which so many continue to deny the existence of.
Rittenhouse claimed that his intention was to protect property. Whilst patrolling the area, he was pursued by a group of protestors and shot one of them. Following this, he is further followed and identified as ‘the shooter’. He then fires bullets at three people who approached him.
During these events, police who were just one block away reportedly remained stationary, and afterwards failed to act on witnesses’ claims that Rittenhouse had shot people.
Having been charged with first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide, and attempted first-degree intentional homicide, Rittenhouse has recently been cleared of homicide after claiming self-defence. As infuriating, disgusting and just plain wrong this is, it is unfortunately not surprising.
Such a verdict is an obvious example of systemic racism within the justice system. Not only is it unspeakably outrageous to allow someone who has committed such crimes to walk free, it also sends an incredibly dangerous message that the right to protest is only actively protected for a selected group of people. In January this year, there was a riot, a literal insurrection, by supporters of Donald Trump. Many of us will remember watching the scenes at the U.S. Capitol unfold. The difference in police responses to this compared to that of peaceful Black Lives Matter protests which took place during the previous year was astounding, and shows us exactly how people like Kyle Rittenhouse get away with murder, and equally demonstrates the prevalence of institutional racism.
This story reminds us how nations like America are fundamentally built on white supremacy, and its institutions are regularly upholding a prejudiced, exploitative system. The outcome of Rittenhouse’s trial is a representation of the consequences of colonisation that still plague the country today, but why has this still not changed? Here we have seen first hand how the system was designed to protect people like him, while others suffer.
There have been reports that one of the men shot by Rittenhouse was a convicted paedophile, and that the only reason the 17-year-old opened fire was because he was under attack. It has not even been entirely clear whether his victims were protestors themselves. It is, however, important to remember that although Rittenhouse has a history of showing support for pro-police movements such as Blue Lives Matter, he is not a person of authority. He was not a judge, jury or even police officer, so why was he able to make the decision that these men deserved to die or be seriously hurt, presumably without knowing anything about them? What has gone so very wrong is that a young man was able to cross state lines, retrieve a highly dangerous, military grade weapon, and then patrol a protest of his own accord, eventually taking the lives of two people, and undoubtedly changing the life of another.
Black people such as Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice and sadly so many more have had their lives taken from them without having done anything wrong. Black people often don’t get the right to a fair trial, or even a trial at all, before someone removes any opportunity for them to defend themselves. Meanwhile, a white boy is acquitted after killing two people. Things need to change.