The two-week trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old white male who killed two men and wounded a third at the 2020 Kenosha protests, finally concluded on Friday, November 19 with a disheartening albeit predictable verdict: not guilty on all charges.
When Jacob Blake—a Black Wisconsin man—was shot seven times in the back by a police officer last summer, the incident was caught on camera and immediately went viral. Blake was also left paralyzed from the attack. This came on the heels of the deaths of other police brutality victims like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor; America was finally becoming consumed with and outraged by how Black people are relentlessly murdered and abused by law enforcement. The unrest that erupted shortly after in Kenosha a few days after Blake’s shooting prompted Rittenhouse to arm himself with an AR-15 rifle, cross state lines (he traveled from Illinois), and place himself in a volatile situation.
As we’ve seen time and time again, Black folks and other people of color are usually the ones on the receiving end of injustice from our legal system.
During the trial, Rittenhouse testified that he went to the uprising to serve as a medic and protect private property. His victims were Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber, and Gaige Grosskreutz (Grosskreutz was wounded but not fatally). Rittenhouse claimed that he feared for his life and acted in self-defense, despite two of his victims being unarmed. (Grosskreutz testified he was armed with a pistol, according to NPR.) After 27 hours of deliberation over the course of four days, 12 jurors acquitted him on all five counts he was facing: first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree attempted intentional homicide, and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment.
As we’ve seen time and time again, Black folks and other people of color are usually the ones on the receiving end of injustice from our legal system. It wasn’t that long ago that the world watched the trial of Derek Chauvin—the officer who murdered George Floyd—with bated breath and was shocked when he was found guilty. But Floyd is gone and justice can never be served for him or any of the countless victims who lost their lives at the hands of police.
Not only does being Black in America mean you can be killed at any moment for any reason, but if you publicly engage in allyship for Black people, you can also be killed at any moment for any reason.
Rittenhouse’s victims were white, and as we know, whiteness has always meant special treatment and protection in this country. However, since their identity—which is ultimately a form of power—openly challenged people, structures, and institutions that uphold white supremacy, their lives were quickly deemed expendable. Not only does being Black in America mean you can be killed at any moment for any reason, but if you publicly engage in allyship for Black people, you can also be killed at any moment for any reason. And in both instances, the law will proclaim that it was, in fact, your fault.
Despite the catastrophe that is the U.S. legal system, on Friday President Joe Biden declared that he stands by the verdict. He also insisted that “the jury system works and we have to abide by it.” Some of the men Rittenhouse targeted used their privilege to advocate for the world’s most vulnerable population of people—and died because of it. Ultimately, the jury system is useless if it does nothing but criminalize the innocent and exonerate violent, racist monsters.
But with America’s history, perhaps it’s working the way it was intended.
Candace McDuffie is Boston-based writer with bylines in Entertainment Weekly, Vice, Forbes, Vibe, and more.
An earlier version of this post did not include that Grosskreutz was reportedly armed. It has been updated.