The free world and perhaps much of what some of us would define as the ‘unfree’ world must be shaking heads. On Friday 19 November 2021 a jury found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty on charges related to shooting two people dead and wounding a third at an anti-racism protest Kenosha, Wisconsin in 2020. He killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz when he shot them with an assault rifle as he roamed the streets of Kenosha with other armed men who described themselves as militia, what many of us would call vigilantes, during protests in August 2020 after a white police officer shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, in the back seven times and who is now, as a consequence, paralysed from the waist down.
This trial was seen as a test case for the USA as an illustration of contrasting law enforcement when white men and, in this case teenagers, claiming to be informal security personnel, armed with assault rifles go to the streets intent on ‘policing’ even the most peaceful protests, irrespective of whether protesters are black, white or both. He had gone from Illinois to Kenosha to be part of the so-called militia, which alone carries implications of premeditation in by going to ‘police’ the demonstration the possibility of violence had been calculated into the trip.
Rittenhouse was found not guilty of crimes normally classed as murder but in Wisconsin the charges were intentional homicide, reckless homicide and attempted intentional homicide. He is white, so too the men he shot. Nonetheless, this case raised questions of racial justice, unequal policing and the right to bear firearms that is at the heart of partisan divisions in the USA at present.
By claiming self defence, Rittenhouse pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder charges as well to two other charges of irresponsibly endangering safety and firing his weapon near others. He was charged with the illegal possession of a dangerous weapon by a minor that the judge, Bruce Schroeder, dropped during the trial. The judge showed signs of partiality by making outrageous comments during the trial, whilst displaying attitudes that showed sympathy with the defence rather than the impartiality demanded of a judge. His overbearing style, including some of his comments and attitudes, has caused controversy and concern among observers.
Whilst the victims of the shooting were white, it raises a serious question about tolerance to vigilantism being tolerated, especially when white militia takes the law into their own hands, when confronting even law abiding Black people irrespective of the situation, but especially peaceful protests like the one where this shooting happened. Had judicial prejudice not been the case and even had the jury found Rittenhouse only guilty of lesser charges, the reaction would probably have been far less of shock and fear. The USA is becoming more divided and in chain less free with what may appear to some to be free licence for vigilantes to take control of the administration of their version of justice in a country that has the words ‘O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?’ as the last line of the first verse of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, the national anthem of the USA. To some it may now appear that the freedom it refers to is the privilege of those who deny it to others and bravery when carrying powerful firearms, often against unarmed people, is meaningless, although that is not entirely the case in this instance since Gaige Grosskreutz admitted carrying a firearm. What once claimed to be the most ‘democratic’ country in the world is now clearly anything but that as the events of the last year have shown us. The implication now, is that the time has come for the world to reconsider what the USA actually is with this travesty of law being just one illustration of why that must happen.
Featured image by Pixabay on Pexels.