Kyle Rittenhouse, who was 17 years old when he shot three people, killing two, officially got away with murder. A jury of his white peers ruled that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense when he illegally acquired a gun, traveled across state lines, lied about his status as a medic, pointed his gun at protesters, and then used it to kill others.
The verdict is not surprising, if you are familiar with how the criminal justice system works for white people. Wisconsin Judge Bruce Schroeder, who presided over the Rittenhouse trial, consistently made rulings in the best interest of the white gunman. He refused to punish Rittenhouse for violating the terms of his bail; excluded evidence of Rittenhouse’s behavior before and after the shooting that spoke to his intent and lack of remorse; allowed the defense to mischaracterize the people Rittenhouse killed as “rioters”; yelled at prosecutors in front of the jury; dismissed an illegal gun charge against the gunman; and had the jury clap for one of Rittenhouse’s expert witnesses.
Others might want to argue about why Schroeder was biased toward the defendant (I think the judge’s MAGA ringtones and off-color jokes tell you all you need to know about why he was sympathetic to a white gunman who shot up anti–police violence protesters at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement). But that he was biased toward Rittenhouse was obvious to those watching the trial without blinders.
Still, a sympathetic judge and a predominately white jury are just standard gifts the criminal justice system gives to white boys accused of criminal violence. Rittenhouse also enjoyed hero status among white supremacists and Republicans as well as favorable media coverage from Fox News and The New York Times.
No doubt, some people will express shock at the verdict over the next few days. But Rittenhouse’s freedom is not a “miscarriage” of justice—it is our white justice system working as intended. This system is designed to free people like Rittenhouse: white vigilantes who kill to maintain the best interests of whiteness. It doesn’t always work (I still believe the people who lynched Ahmaud Arbery will be found guilty). But it works often enough (see George Zimmerman) that it gives comfort and confidence to any white person who clearly realizes that they might do an obviously illegal and violent thing (like, say, storm the US Capitol) and either get away with it completely or receive a light punishment.
We know that the system does not work this way for Black people. It is difficult even to imagine a similar set of circumstances for a Black defendant. Nobody honestly thinks that a Black teenager who got an illegal gun and then crossed state lines to shoot up a MAGA protest would be greeted by a sympathetic Black judge, in front of a predominately Black jury; be lauded by prominent Black leaders; enjoy favorable media coverage; and then walk free. Nobody credible thinks that. In point of fact, here is the full and complete list of Black teenagers who have killed two people at a MAGA rally to defend their community: …
Rittenhouse, however, shot and killed two people at a protest against police violence with an illegally obtained gun, and even the illegal gun charge was dropped against him. And that is precisely how a majority of white people want the white justice system to work. By their votes in elections (including elections for judges like Bruce Schroeder); their lack of support for criminal justice reform; and the cold reality that prosecutors favor white jurors when the defendants are Black, while defense attorneys favor white jurors when the defendants are white, we see that a majority of white people choose things to be this way. They want a system that will be, if not sympathetic, at least empathetic toward eruptions of white violence, while swift and harsh toward Black people accused of crime. We don’t have to live with a biased criminal justice system; white people, enough of them, just like it that way.
So white violence will continue, unabated. The Rittenhouse case started with a cop, Rusten Sheskey, shooting a Black man, Jacob Blake, in the back, six times, permanently paralyzing him. The cop was not punished. The outrage at that violence led to protests, which attracted another violent white boy, Rittenhouse, who killed two people. Now, Rittenhouse will not be punished. If you are the next violent white person, why would you ever worry about being held accountable for whatever despicable act you are planning? All we can hope for is that the next Sheskey or Rittenhouse isn’t gunning for us, or somebody we love.
There is no justice. And there is no peace. And if you complain about that, white people will show up to shoot you. Just like a majority of white people want them to.