“I assumed the guys he shot were Black guys,” said a neighbor when the Kyle Rittenhouse homicide trial came up in casual conversation. Others seconded that opinion as an informal poll conducted by the MSR found most people, like our White neighbor, holding this assumption. Why would that be?
“I think the mood in Wisconsin, not just Kenosha, is that they’re over the whole racial awakening,” said John Eason, an assistant sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in an NBC News interview. “All signs are this is going to be the case that vindicates White people. If the peak of the country’s social justice reckoning was George Floyd, then this is the pendulum swinging back. This is the tipping point back.”
A Washington Post podcast concluded that if Rittenhouse is acquitted it would “embolden anti-Black figures” to believe “if you shoot them, you might be able to get away with it.”
Similarities with White shooter and Black victim
All the elements that exist when a White person is on trial for killing a Black person are present in this situation. The White person is endowed with the rights usually accorded to law enforcement. Rittenhouse claimed he was defending himself against a perceived threat, and he felt his life was in danger.
The judge in the case, 75-year-old Bruce Schroeder—whose likeness and behavior, in this case, bore an eerie likeness to Nazi Germany-era Roland Friesler—has ruled overwhelmingly in favor of the defense. Schroeder screamed at and dressed down the prosecutor in ways seldom witnessed in U.S. judicial lore.
Related Story: Kyle Rittenhouse found not guilty of all charges
Add to that prosecutorial malpractice, as Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger crossed lines that he knew he could not cross and continued to follow lines of questioning that drew the judge’s ire. Even Rittenhouse defense attorney Mark Richards accused Binger of being unprepared.
Rittenhouse was generously characterized by the New York Times as someone “who has idolized law enforcement since he was young” and went to Kenosha “with at least one mission: to play the role of police officer and medic.” According to the Times, the killer and high school dropout is just a good ole American boy, an aspiring angel of mercy.
The victimizer becomes a victim
In reality, the victims, in this case, are young White men: Anthony Huber, 26, and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, were shot and killed by Rittenhouse, and Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, was wounded by the shooter. Rittenhouse has pleaded self-defense and his fate could be decided before the end of the week.
Rittenhouse is charged with first-degree reckless homicide for the killing of Rosenbaum and first-degree intentional homicide for fatally shooting Huber. He is charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide for shooting Grosskreutz and faces two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety; use of a dangerous weapon, for shooting at two other people.
The way in which Rittenhouse has been embraced by the right-wing and White supremacists would lead some to think he may indeed have shot and killed Black people. However, in this case, the people he shot were demanding justice for a Black man, Jacob Blake, who had been shot in the back by Kenosha police.
Absurdly enough, Judge Schroeder has ruled that the men Rittenhouse shot could not be referred to by the prosecution as “victims,” but calling them “looters” or “arsonists” might be okay.
“Let the evidence show what the evidence shows,” Schroeder said. “And if the evidence shows that any or more than one of these people were engaged in arson, rioting, or looting, then I’m not going to tell the defense they can’t call them that.”
The problem with that statement is that the shooter is on trial, not the victims. Arson, rioting, and looting—even if the victims were guilty of committing them—are not crimes punishable by death. Nor does the law support vigilante justice.
Schroeder also dropped the sixth charge, a misdemeanor charge of illegally possessing the AR-15.
In American jurisprudence and democracy, the assumption is that one is innocent until proven guilty, just as Rittenhouse, the shooter, is legally innocent unless the jury decides he is guilty.
Judge Schroeder has assigned guilt to the people shot, the victims, and turned on its head the assumption of innocence. According to the judge, the victims are arsonists, rioters, and looters until proven otherwise.
Trial has trappings of the reactionary and racist past
This is a reactionary trial. It is filled with biased assumptions projected upon those who protest and fight injustices placed upon them by those who side with the system’s abuses and who as a result, hate those who resist. To them, the dead and wounded protesters are rabble-rousers, “n—g-r lovers,” and do not deserve the protection of the court.
That’s why this trial evokes memories of racially biased Southern trials of the Jim Crow era when White Freedom Riders were treated as harshly as Blacks—and even more so—for being “race traitors” and “outside agitators.” This trial, along with this judge’s ruling, attacks none-too-subtly the constitutional right to freedom of assembly and undermines the right to protest.
A conservative newspaper, the Washington Examiner, insists that race has nothing to do with the trial. They complain that some of the news coverage does not mention that the men shot by Rittenhouse were White and none of the victims were non-White or Black men. According to the Examiner, “This bias is kind of ordinary. The tone of media coverage has led many people to believe Rittenhouse shot Black people.”
It is true that the victims were not Black but rather White people standing up for Black people. Apparently, the shooting victims lost their right to be considered human beings when they attended a protest defending the rights of a Black man who was shot several times in the back by the police. Blake was shot for no discernible good reason other than the desire of an armed agent of the State to carry out his true mission—to remind Black people of their place in this society by any means necessary.
“We’re a little dismayed by the situation,” Kenosha resident Max Lewis told NBC news. “This case should have been cut and dried. You kill two people in the street, you get punished for it, end of story.”
In this truly disturbing trial (only in America!) the shooter is White, the men he killed and wounded are White, and yet the specter of Jim Crow bigotry and racist jurisprudence hangs over the proceedings like the ghost of the past that is still haunting our present.
The right-wing is pushing back because they view anti-police violence and anti-racist protest as traitorous to the philosophical and ideological underpinnings of U.S. White supremacy, and they do not intend to let it go unpunished.
Mel Reeves was the community editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder until he passed away on January 6, 2022. He had a long and storied history working at the MSR.
Find more about Reeve’s life and legacy here: spokesman-recorder.com/category/remembering-mel-reeves.