As I write, we await the jury’s verdict in the case of Kyle Rittenhouse, the kid who shot two people to death during anti-brutality demonstrations in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year. I’m not guessing what it will be.
(Note: on Nov. 19, 2021 the Rittenhouse jury acquitted him of all charges.)
But the outcome isn’t what’s been fascinating me. I’m most interested in how in this trial (which I’ve been kind of observing as I work), the simple truths are excluded and the law, crafted by a bunch of white men most interested in maintaining the status quo of an unjust society, makes killing legal.
Make no mistake that, while he portrays himself as a teenage male Mother Theresa, Rittenhouse is a virulent fascist. That’s proven in statements he’s made in the past and his photos and appearances with fascist groups.
He has also displayed considerable cunning, belied by his dumb, almost cartoonish face — the kind of face High School thugs single out for bullying. He has lied on the stand and engaged in a protracted dance of non-answers and duplicity. In fact, during the trial he broke down into what were obviously false tears that reflect considerable rehearsal and made no sense at that moment in his testimony — he was testifying about seeing a person on the street.
The facts in this case are pretty simple. This kid got his friend to buy him an automatic rifle — the kind the military uses — because he was only 17 and not legally allowed to buy one himself. He then went to Kenosha with it slung on his back and walked around the streets with it during one of the night-time disturbances that followed the day’s demonstrations.
A guy who apparently had some emotional problems threw a small clothing bag at him and he shot the guy four times with his AR-15 rifle; the guy died. Then the crowd noticed that they had an active shooter and chased him — which is what anyone should do in those circumstances. He shot another person from that crowd and then killed a third person who tried to hit him with a skateboard.
It’s almost a cliche but one that is pertinent and worth repeating in this situation: any man of color who brings a military weapon into a disturbance and then uses it to kill two unarmed people would go to jail for the rest of his life.
Under the rules of evidence and the laws of Wisconsin, however, Rittenhouse’s conviction is not guaranteed at all. His guilt is questionable and the jury could decide he acted in self-defense. It doesn’t help that the trial is being run by a nasty, mercurial judge whose decisions have mainly supported the defense. The case is loaded with literally hours of video about what he did but people often see what they want and who knows what the jury, almost all white people, will want to see.
The most important point, however, is that this killer kid has become a virtual icon for the right in this country including media like Fox News. They have covered this trial as a kind of crucifixion: outraged that this deep-state would have the nerve to bring this killer to justice after not even charging the black Congressional cop who shot the fascist lady who was trying to get into the Congress on January 6 to forcibly stop the election count.
He’s their hero and that’s because they believe that, sooner or later, they are going to have to take up arms and kill those of us who oppose them: people of color standing up for our rights and white people who are supporting us. For the fascist movement in this country, Rittenhouse is more than a symbol: he’s a role-model and a test case. If they can get him off from these charges, they can start killing us more frequently and with great impunity.
Now, sure, they know they can’t come into places like Los Angeles, New York City or Atlanta and start doing that because the resistance would be too sharp and the legal system more greatly influenced by progressive thinking. But it’s the smaller towns and cities, the mid-western states, the places where Republicans usually win elections and parents complain to school boards about their kids being taught about racism…those are the places where fascism is staging. Those are the places where fascists are practicing their violent offensive and testing how far it can go.
This trial isn’t only about what happened that night in the small town of Kenosha; it’s about what is going to happen in the rest of the country. No movement person, none of us, should ignore the fact that there is going to be heightened violence aimed at us and, at this point, we aren’t prepared to defend ourselves.