On Friday, Nov. 19, people began to hear about the verdict of the Kyle Rittenhouse case, where an 18-year-old white man was facing five different charges for events that took place during a protest against police brutality in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year.
Rittenhouse was found not guilty of all five charges by an overwhelmingly white jury. The charges he was found not guilty of included first-degree intentional homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide and two counts of recklessly endangering safety in the first degree.
Since the decision was made public, reactions began to occur throughout the country, many people said something akin to “I can’t believe this happened” or “I am shocked he wasn’t charged with something at least.” For a good number of people, this was a “wake-up” call that made them want to protest the corruption of the justice system they had seen in this trial.
While this kind of attention shines a light on the blatant bias that I believe the justice system has for white men, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the people who said they “didn’t see this coming” or “thought we were better than this,” when history would point to this being the obvious outcome.
Kyle Rittenhouse is the perfect example of who the United States justice system was built to protect and encourage. It did not matter that Rittenhouse was 17 at the time of the protest and that his friend had illegally purchased the gun for him nor that Rittenhouse came to a place he did not live to get the gun and try to enforce some kind of militia-esque protection of businesses, most likely encouraged by the rhetoric of a self-proclaimed “law and order” president who would tweet regularly with things like “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” and called those protesting “THUGS.”
Some might think Rittenhouse’s actions should have been seen as clearly wrong since he was underage and using an AR-15 style rifle; this, however, was not the case as it had been thrown out by the judge over a statute in the state’s law that had a “murky” history. Instead of it being a clear-cut case, people watched as Rittenhouse showed the world all it takes to get out of being charged: a white man’s tears.
Whenever a white man cries in cases such as this one, the American justice system gains a false conscience that wants to comfort him – something seen in situations like that during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation process where he broke down crying.
This was only confirmed in the way that Judge Schroeder called for a break in the trial as Rittenhouse began to cry and seemed to express sympathy for the defendant. Of course, one should not be labeled guilty for crying nor should their tears be dismissed, but it is important to note that Rittenhouse did not seem to be worried at all outside of the courtroom back in January as he sported a “Free as F—” t-shirt while posing for pictures in a bar after paying bond.
Further, Judge Schroeder had only increased my belief that Rittenhouse would be found not guilty by the jury when he encouraged the jury to applaud a defense witness for being a veteran after asking if anyone else was one, which is something that some legal experts worried could increase one’s bias to be in favor of the witness. In addition, his phone ringtone being the same song played at Donald Trump rallies, as well as his stance that those killed could not be called “victims” but could be noted as “arsonists,” further increased my belief.
Since the trial began, I have seen people try to bring up the theoretical example of a Black man doing the same thing that Rittenhouse did, trying to show the comparison of how the system works for white versus Black people. This example, however, has fallen on deaf ears for those who give a pretense of American patriotism to hide their blatant racism and satisfaction in how the system gives white people power.
In response to this theoretical example, online fights have broken out, where people argue that you can’t bring up a theory to prove a point. Those who believe this, however, fail to see the countless examples of reality.
One example of this reality can be seen in a case that ended shortly after the Rittenhouse verdict was made. This verdict pertained to Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan’s, all of whom are white, involved in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man. The verdict found all three of the men guilty for their roles in hunting down Arbery and killing him.
The outcome of this trial provided much needed relief for Arbery’s family and the community, but it did not make people forget that the trial of these three men would not have happened without mass outrage when a video of them killing Arbery leaked online. Without this video, and one of the men admitting that Arbery had not spoken a word to them before they killed him, the system would have likely let them continue their lives as if they had not ruthlessly murdered someone.
This is the truth of the American justice system and it will not end if white people continue to pretend to feel shocked every time the truth is forced into the public eye. As long as white people continue to fane this shock, Black lives will never matter to the system. Without admitting that the system must change, there will simply be more accepted excuses for why a white man and Black man are not equal under the guise of feeling threatened.
All of this is not to say that white people should allow themselves to believe they have a duty to “save” BIPOC communities as white saviorism is an issue in its own right, but white people need to begin to own up to the ways in which the system will always benefit white people, especially white men, and begin the fight to tear it down. There is nothing within a system like this that can be magically fixed as it is working exactly how it was designed. It must, rather, be completely destroyed so that the United States can be a nation for all its citizens.
Too often do white people fall back on the argument that they feel like they’re not responsible for the racism of a system created hundreds of years ago, but, without taking on the responsibility of one’s history, there can be little to no hope that anything will truly change.