John Lynch is a senior journalism news concentration major and writes “Fine Print” for The Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
Kenosha used to be boring, as far as hometowns go.
The fourth-largest city in Wisconsin, my hometown enjoyed a position of relative calm between the two metropolitan sprawls of Chicago and Milwaukee. Known just as much for it’s summertime “Tall Ships” festivals on the harbor as it was for its automotive manufacturing background, it was a quintessential Midwestern city you’d be happy to leave just as readily as you’d be happy to settle down.
However, now it’s different. These days, when I mention I’m from Wisconsin, and Kenosha specifically, I usually get two reactions, in this order: First, the look of surprise at seeing someone from that far out of Indiana attending Ball State, and second, the dawning of the realization that yes, he just said that Kenosha.
On Aug. 23, 2020, Jacob Blake, 29-year-old Black man, was shot seven times — four times in the back and three times in the side, by Kenosha Police Officer Rusten Sheskey during an arrest on charges of third-degree sexual assault, criminal trespass and disorderly conduct. The shooting paralyzed Blake from the waist down and sparked protests against police brutality, during which Kenosha’s downtown was flooded with a mix of protesters, rioters and looters.
The shooting of Blake wouldn’t be the end of the bloodshed, however, as then-17-year-old Antioch, Illinois, resident Kyle Rittenhouse decided to take the law into his own hands. Rittenhouse would cross state lines to pick up an AR-15 rifle purchased by his friend, Dominic Black, because Rittenhouse wasn’t legally old enough to own his own. He would go on to kill two protesters and seriously injure another.
The killings of Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum by Rittenhouse were caught on video, and the defense in Rittenhouse’s trial showed the actions of Huber and Rosenbaum before their killings were not entirely peaceful, causing Rittenhouse to be declared not guilty on all counts based on a self-defense argument.
Here’s the deal, though: Rittenhouse was never going to face a real penalty for his actions.
I knew that before Judge Bruce Schroeder denied the prosecution the right to call Huber and Rosenbaum “victims,” instead only accepting "arsonists," "looters" and "rioters."
I knew that from the moment Schroeder dropped the misdemeanor possession of a firearm by a minor charge thanks to poor wording in Wisconsin’s gun laws that allow for minors to possess firearms over a certain barrel length.
I knew that the moment the news of Rittenhouse’s killings hit the internet.
Rittenhouse was always going to get away with murder, not because of the facts of the situation, but because of the country we live in, a system that prioritizes white innocence over the suffering of others.
Where to start with the Rittenhouse trial?
I have a hard time seeing the fairness in this trial. Schroeder showed Rittenhouse kindness not typically shown to a defendant on trial for intentional homicide, going so far as to let Rittenhouse pull the slips of paper from a bucket to decide the final 12 jurors on the trial — an uncommon courtesy which the judge claimed was common practice in his courtroom — and shouting down prosecutor Thomas Binger during a cross-examination of Rittenhouse.
According to an article from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, a video taken 15 days before the events in Kenosha showed Rittenhouse fantasizing about shooting looters at a CVS, in which he could be heard saying "Bro, I wish I had my f---ing AR. I'd start shooting rounds at them."
For reasons currently unknown, Schroeder did not allow the prosecution to use this video as evidence, but the point is still the same — he had intent to harm people in similar situations well before he made that fantasy a reality.
Rittenhouse is not a hero, nor is he the innocent pariah the right-wing media ecosystem and politicians have made him out to be in the last year — Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said he would make a good Congressional intern during an appearance on Newsmax — however, he is white, and in our judicial system, that’s often enough.
One needs to look no further than the way our legal system has traditionally treated Black defendants in similar or less serious criminal trials compared to the intentional homicide Rittenhouse was acquitted of to see the obvious disparities in our legal framework.
See, over the last year of following this trial, I’ve done my homework — read from both sides of the aisle, paid attention to the circumstances, looked at the legal precedents that could prove or disprove Rittenhouse’s innocence — and this trial is extremely dangerous.
The precedent Rittenhouse’s case set should scare you if you care about the First Amendment or your own safety. Rittenhouse knew the situation in Kenosha was dangerous and went anyway. A curfew had already been put in place, and Rittenhouse and everyone else in the streets of Kenosha was out past the curfew at that point.
So, how is crossing state lines to pick up an AR-15 with the intention to guard property and potentially use that weapon on other people an argument for self-defense?
Yes, Rittenhouse was chased through the streets by Anthony Rosenbaum, one of his eventual victims, but Rittenhouse decided to show up to a violent situation with a gun. He failed to consider the message that bringing an assault weapon to a protest that turned violent sent — his privilege as a white person in this scenario protected him more than his AR-15 did. The Kenosha Police Department did not deputize him to protect the city, but they clearly had no problem with his “help.”
Citizens are not the arbiters of law, but Rittenhouse has effectively been allowed to do just that. No one in Rittenhouse’s defense denied Rittenhouse killed people that night — the argument was just about whether he was legally justified in doing so.
When people say our legal system is built to uphold white supremacy, this is what they mean. No one, from the cops who didn’t arrest Rittenhouse until the morning after the killings to the judge who was clearly in his corner, thought a white kid shooting protesters in an act of vigilantism was a punishable offense.
No matter how this ruling was going to play out, Rittenhouse’s supporters would have still managed to make him a hero. Had he been jailed, he would be a martyr for the gun rights political machine. Free, he’s a shining right-wing beacon of freedom and patriotism — if your definition of patriotism counts shooting up protests as American behavior.
Rittenhouse’s freedom disgusts me, and I don’t buy the crocodile tears he shed on the witness stand. You cannot convince me that someone who wore a T-shirt reading “Free as F---” in January, got a photo op with former president Donald Trump days after his trial and had his own merchandise glorifying his actions feels remorse for what he did.
As someone who lived in Kenosha for 18 years, I know the events of Aug. 25, 2020 are not reflective of our community. Speaking about my hometown now has a tinge of sadness, because Kenosha has become synonymous with Rittenhouse’s misdeeds and the harm he inflicted.
Kenosha is not a community that asked for Rittenhouse’s “help,” and it’s worth remembering for so many other things than a “wannabe vigilante.” I want to remember it for all of its positives, but its streets are forever stained now.
The next Rittenhouse will be able to point to this case and get away with the same things he did in Kenosha — or worse. With this ruling, we’ve entered a new legal world where someone with a gun can show up to a protest, claim they felt threatened, open fire and get away with it. While all amendments in the Constitution are created equally, this ruling shows a clear preference for the Second Amendment over the First.
Kyle Rittenhouse was always going to walk. I can’t help but wonder who’s next.
Contact John Lynch with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @WritesLynch.