Not guilty on all counts. That was the verdict rendered in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the armed teenager who shot three people — killing two — during racial justice protests in Kenosha, Wisc. last year.
To be honest, I can’t say I was totally surprised. Witnessing the numerous acts of deference toward the defense by Judge Bruce E. Schroeder undoubtedly blew the judicial winds in Rittenhouse’s direction. He forbade the prosecution from calling the three men Rittenhouse shot “victims,” referring to it as a “loaded term.” The judges’ periodic outbursts at the prosecution team and his flippant remark about “bad Asian food being delivered on boats,” was hardly enlightening.
Predictably, critics across the political spectrum have wasted no time weighing in on the verdict and what they see as its potential ramifications.
Left-wing commentators, including MSNBC analyst Jason Johnson and The Nation columnist Elie Mystal, argue the verdict further emboldens right wing vigilantes, reassuring them that their wanton antics will result in little, if any, consequences for them. Conservative commentators, such as Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, celebrated the outcome, telling the nation and their followers that the jury understood Rittenhouse acted in self defense, and that the second amendment as it relates to the constitution still stands.
One thing’s certain: Rittenhouse has become a darling of the political, social and cultural right.
Paul Gosar, the politically unhinged, far-right Republican congressman, along with his equally seedy colleague Matt Gaetz, have talked of giving Rittenhouse a positions in their offices. Their politically ideological sidekick, Matthew Cawthorne, brazenly stated after the verdict on YouTube, “Kyle Rittenhouse is not guilty, my friends.”
Rittenhouse, with the aid of his mother, went to Kenosha in the wee hours of the morning with an AR-15 gun he was not licensed to carry. He needlessly injected himself into a dangerous situation and fatally shot two people, Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, and almost killed a third person, Gaige Grosskreutz. While the panel of 12 jurors ultimately concluded that he exercised justifiable self defense, the truth is had he not taken it upon himself to engage in an act of vigilantism, he would never have found himself in such a position to begin with.
Most people realize there is virtually not a snowballs chance in hell that a non-white teenage boy would have been able to cross state lines armed with a deadly weapon they were not authorized to use, kill two protesters, then walk by an armed tank truck without being stopped by police. That kid would have been arrested on the spot, and its a good chance their parents would have been as well. Conservative commentator Charlie Sykes said it best: “If Kyle were black, he’d be dead.”
If there is anything good to come out of the trial, It was Rittenhouse telling Carlson in an interview Monday night he was a supporter of Black Lives Matter and that he acknowledged there are racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Immediately following the verdict, there were those on social media arguing that race “had nothing to do with the trial” because all of the people involved were white. While all the central characters in the Rittenhouse saga were white — from the attorneys, to the judge, to the defendant, to most of the jurors — the fact is for many racially bigoted white people on the far right, those the join their non-white brothers and sisters to fight for social justice are often perceived as “aiding and abetting” the enemy. Race traitors so to speak. Thus, their lives and livelihoods are seen as unworthy of preservation as well.
To me, the most alarming result from this verdict is it emboldens a segment of racially-hyper white people to travel across the nation, armed to the teeth, and levy violence against any person they deem as a potential threat.
So many on the right are already neurotically paranoid about issues such as immigration, declining white populations, and what they see as their diminishing status in American society. This culturally volatile climate is ripe for disaster.
Copyright 2021 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate
Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.