On Friday, a 12-person jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse, a 19-year-old man charged with fatally shooting two people and wounding one.
In a way, it was a typical self-defense case. Fearing his safety, a man shot at what he perceived as an imminent danger to himself. Throughout the trial, Judge Bruce Schroeder emphasized it was not political.
Still, the case is something greater than mere self-defense. It portrayed the intersectionality of race, self-defense laws and mental health.
As I said before, differences in upbringing and experiences yield divergent perspectives. Because divorcing oneself from their perspectives is impossible, states do not let the decision hinge on one or two jurors, instead insisting on 6-12 jurors to discourage groupthink.
In Rittenhouse’s trial, the jury comprehended 12 jurors, with only one being a person of color. This is not a very diverse prima facie.
Rittenhouse echoed Schroeder, saying that the case has nothing to do with race. Even so, it surfaced in the trial, from the attorneys’ objection that Rittenhouse is a white supremacist to the prosecutors’ plea to allow evidence of Rittenhouse’s association with Proud Boys, a hate group.
Many commentators pointed out, disturbingly, that had Rittenhouse been Black, he would have been killed by the police or convicted, which is supported by precedent. In 2014, a 12-year-old, Tamir Rice, was killed for playing with a fake gun. In 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was chased like a dog and killed by three white men — but none were arrested for more than two months.
Rittenhouse, on the other hand, was privileged. A white male, he stood and cried during his testimony, a key scheme that solidified his defense and awarded him an opportunity that was not given to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice and other Black people who suffered a premature death or an unjust trial.
Discrimination, both implicit and explicit, was also featured in the trial.
“I’m glad he shot him because if Joseph Rosenbaum got that gun, I don’t for a minute believe he wouldn’t have used it against somebody else. He was irrational and crazy,” defense attorney Mark Richards said.
Although the risk of violence increases in people who have bipolar disease or depression, in many cases, it is more likely to be directed at themselves, not other people. People with mental health maladies are more likely to be victims, even when the media commonly portrays them as perpetrators.
Mark Richards’ use of “crazy” — a dated and offensive term to any person suffering from mental health disorders — perpetuates the cycle of judgment and stereotyping. It relegates those who suffer from any mental health order or have a history of it to second-class citizens, apparently cold-blooded murderers who would irrationally kill other people. Stigmatization of mental health disorders only serves to linger, reshaping the current ableist society to a better one.
The Rittenhouse trial can also be seen in another light. It is a direct result of the movement toward gun normalization and open carry in states.
“I think this really shows us that self-defense laws are colliding with another set of laws, with open-carry laws. In dozens of states, it is legal to openly carry a firearm in public.” Julie Bosman, the Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times, said.
Likewise, New York Times journalist Farhad Manjoo wrote that Rittenhouse’s gun was the reason why Rosenbaum pursued him. If Rittenhouse carried the gun to protect his community, then how did he do so? Via the killing of two peoples and the wounding of one?
To celebrate Rittenhouse’s heroism is to sanctify the racism and stigmatization embedded in the system. Using a gun for self-defense is not a viable option for many Black people, yet it remains the standard by which white people can immunize themselves.
To strive toward an egalitarian society, guns must be entirely abolished, heavily controlled while providing equal opportunity and access to Black people and peoples of all races or left unregulated. We have seen the last option in action in Rittenhouse’s conduct; it’s ineffective. So, should we continue on that unsustainable path or recognize our mistake and rectify it?