An Unjust Justice System: The Rittenhouse Ruling

Kaia Wirth, Editor-in-chief

 

November 19th, 2021. 

This was the day that marked yet another gross miscarriage of the American justice system. 

 

Kyle Rittenhouse, 18 years old, was ruled not guilty of first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety. 

For those unfamiliar with the trial, Rittenhouse fired upon a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, armed with an AR-15-style rifle loaded with 30 rounds of full metal jacket bullets and proceeded fatally shoot two men: Joseph Rosenbaum (36 years of age) and Anthony Huber (26 years of age), then proceeded to shoot the arm of a protest medic by the name of Gaige Grosskreutz (27 years of age). Rittenhouse claimed self-defense against the members of the BLM protest and in his testimony stated that he stormed the protest “… to act as a medic and help protect private property.” 

Ironically, in Rittenhouse’s effort to preserve and protect, he armed himself with an AR-15-style semi automatic rifle liberally loaded with bullets specifically designed to “…hold their trajectory and have greater penetration against soft tissue”  (in other words, to pierce human flesh). It is also imperative to mention that, alongside his claims of heroism, he fired four fatal rounds into a motionless Rosenbaum-a man who was clearly subdued and no longer a threat. Furthermore, a video reveals Grosskreutz bleeding out, screaming in pain. Grosskreutz, a trained paramedic, actually held medical authority to provide aid to protestors as opposed to a lifeguard at a recreational complex, as Rittenhouse was. 

The defendant’s testimony was consistent in its contradictory statements.

“And part of my job is to help. If there’s somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way.

“That’s why I have my rifle.”  

The words “help” and “rifle” are contrary. There are no medical professionals who are trained to assist patients by using a semi-automatic rifle, thus the argument containing the intent to help wounded protestors by “running into harm’s way” armed with a rifle should be void. How is one supposed to help the injured with a tool used almost always exclusively to injure or kill?

 

Aside from the content of the defendant’s testimony, civil rights activists across America are enraged at the verdict that was reached. Rittenhouse emerged from the trial not guilty of all his charges. This trial now serves as yet another example for history to reflect the horrifying breaches of ethics and morality in our justice system. It is a simple fact that part of the reason Rittenhouse walks free is due to the color of his skin, as it affords him an advantage in a system rigged in his favor. This is irrefutable.

There are countless examples of Black Americans walking away from a courtroom with sentences greatly disproportionate to their crimes. The following examples listed exhibit a mere fraction of the contrast between Black Americans versus white people when it pertains to the U.S. justice system.

 

Cyntoia Brown, 16 years old. Brown was a runaway, raped and forced into prostitution by her 24-year old boyfriend “Kut Throat.” In 2004, she shot and killed a man who had paid Kut Throat to have sexual interactions her after she saw him reach for a gun. The prosecution argued that Brown’s motives were of robbery, not self-defense, and she was tried as an adult despite being 16 years old. She was convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder, and aggravated robbery. At 16 years old, a victim of sexual assualt and abuse, Brown was sentenced to life. Only in 2019, after 15 years in prison, was she granted clemency by Tennessee Governor, Bill Haslam. After gaining her GED with a 4.0 GPA through the Lipscomb Initiative for Education Program, she will remain on parole for the next 10 years.

 

George Zimmerman, 38 years old. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, fatally shot and killed an unarmed 17-year old high school student by the name of Trayvon Martin in 2012. He was acquitted in 2013 on the charge of second degree manslaughter. It’s worth mentioning that Martin held no criminal record, and Zimmerman’s estranged wife had called 911 on him for assaulting her and her father, threatening them both at gunpoint in 2013. Although he was not charged over this particular incident, in November of 2013 he was charged with felony aggravated assault for pointing a shotgun at his current girlfriend-a case that would be dropped with no repercussions. Then again, in January of 2015, Zimmerman was charged yet again with domestic assault after throwing a wine bottle at a different girlfriend. Lo and behold, this again was dropped. 

 

Bernard Noble, 51 years old. Noble was sentenced to 13 years in prison for nonviolent possession of two marijuanna joints (2.8 grams) in 2010. He was completely cooperative with the officers who flagged him down for a random search, had been employed for over 20 years, and was the main provider for his family including his youngest child who is diagnosed with autism and another child suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. He possesses a high school diploma, a business license, and a commercial driver’s license. Only after years of pushback from supporters including the billionaire New York hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb, Noble was released on parole after spending 7 years behind bars. Now, he’s created a cannabis company called B Noble, in partnership with Curaleaf, an organization that aims to educate the public on the racial bias in the war on drugs. 

 

Timothy Loehman, 26 years old and Frank Garmback, 46 years old. These officers, members of the Cleveland Police Department, opened fire on 12 year old Tamir Rice. The two men held Rice at gunpoint from the cover of their vehicle for all of 15 seconds before fatally ending the boy’s life. The grand jury failed to convict either officer, deeming the situation (Tamir Rice playing with a toy gun in a public park) reasonable for murder.  

 

These examples represent a miniscule number of white men walking away untouched, and Black Americans being slaughtered on the streets or incarcerated for much lesser or reasonable crimes. Rittenhouse will now be marked down in history as yet another acquitted white American gunman, now amongst names such as Stacey Koontz, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, Daniel Pantaleo, Roy Bryant, J.W. Milam, Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon, Kenneth Boss, Richard Murphy, Darren Wilson, Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankinson, Myles Cosgrove, and so many more white gunmen who were acquitted of any conviction of murder-often of Black Americans.  

The anger at Rittenhouse’s ruling is another indicator of the racial bias and inequality within the U.S. justice system. Simply put, Rittenhouse’s skin is what allows him to walk. This is not an uncommon occurrence, a blip in the process, or an unfair circumstance. Black Americans make up only 13% of the U.S. population, and yet, in a study performed in 2016 by the National Registry of Exonerations, out of the “…1,900 defendants who were convicted of crimes and later exonerated because they were innocent; 47% of them were African Americans, three times their rate in the population.” Meanwhile, white Americans are incarcerated at a rate of 412 per 100,000. For contrast, there are 2,290 Black Americans incarcerated at the same rate. Essentially, Black Americans are wrongfully convicted of crimes at an incredibly high rate, and the amount of White Americans who are incarcerated is much lower than Black Americans despite them comprising the majority of the population.

 

So, how do we as a society escape from this cycle? It begins with recognizing the fact that we are the product of a discriminatory history. White people are given a leg up in society for being born white, Black people are knocked down a couple rungs due to a history of persecution and mass genocide that they did not choose. When we as a people can perceive this, and know that to repair the racial biases in everyday structures within our communities we must not be passive, but actively anti-racist, change will be made. After the waves of Black Lives Matter movements, this country has seen small change. However, in wake of the Rittenhouse ruling, it is clear that our work is nowhere near done. However, I have faith. I have hope and optimism, especially in my generation, to inspire continued civil rights efforts. I must again urge us all to stay angry.