What Kyle Rittenhouse showed in a Kenosha, Wisconsin courtroom this week as he testified there was what people like to call a “bad cry” in his murder trial.
Accused of the murder of two men and the wounding of another In the midst of last summer’s days of racial justice protests, the defendant began to waver on the stand as he described that fateful night last August, when the then 17-year-old armed with a rifle patrolled the streets of a town that was not his. Rittenhouse’s eyes closed almost completely, except for an occasional glance to his left in the direction of the jury. Then came the sobs, which prevented the rest of her response to her attorney’s questions about that evening from escaping her trembling lips.
Rittenhouse’s whine was the headline the day after the defendant offered his long-awaited testimony in the case Wednesday, recalling the night he shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and “vaporized” 90% of the biceps of the man. physician Gaige Grosskreutz, according to Grosskreutz’s testimony. Rittenhouse wasn’t crying with regret; he was claiming self-defense and telling how he felt his life was in danger.
The trial and pre-trial proceedings had already sparked a national outcry after Judge Bruce Schroeder decided last month that prosecutors could not refer to Rosenbaum, Huber and Grosskreutz as “victims” and that defense lawyers could call them “looters. “or” arsonists “. Now with his tears, Rittenhouse presented himself as the only victim in his own murder trial.
When he wasn’t crying, Rittenhouse explained why he had traveled about 20 miles from Illinois, carrying his AR-15-style rifle across state lines. Earlier that day, he allegedly offered “condolences” to a contractor for the cars that had been set on fire the previous night, and he and a friend agreed to help provide armed protection for the company that night. The defendant also testified that he gave a flak jacket in his possession – issued by the Grayslake, Illinois, Police Department’s Explorer program for young people interested in law enforcement careers – to a friend, saying he felt he did not. he would have needed because, he remembered in the courtroom, “I will help people”.
The Illinois teenager faces two counts of first degree murder and one attempted murder, along with three other counts in the August 25, 2020 shooting, just a couple of nights after a local police officer. shot black motorist Jacob Blake seven times in the back in front of three of his children. The killings of the protesters caused a national shock wave last summer, highlighting the powder keg of emotion surrounding arrests, clashes and tense exchanges as tens of millions of Americans took to the streets to protest racial injustice.
This week’s debate centered on the authenticity of the defendant’s show. Whether the crying was real or not, it was a performance and had an audience. Like many white men accused of violent crime and misconduct before him, Rittenhouse appealed with his tears not only to 12 fellow citizens who will decide his fate, but also to certain white members of the American public who too often see such emotions. and they only imagine the faces of their children – not those born to mothers who look like mine.
There is evidence that Rittenhouse clearly aligned with the crowd of “blue lives matter”, so it’s worth considering her hiccups in the context of the toxic and limited vision of manhood which remains so popular in America, particularly among the modern political right. Some respect Rittenhouse to the reaction of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh when questioned during his confirmation hearings on the credible sexual assault allegations of Christine Blasey Ford. Wednesday’s performance at Rittenhouse bore some similarities to Kavanaugh’s self-righteous anger, which often punctuated cracks in his voice. As I wrote at the time, the future Supreme Court judge took advantage of the leeway his gender and privilege gives him, and Rittenhouse did the same.
It’s a special privilege to be considered a “boy” after you become an adult – and when you’ve made decisions like Rittenhouse’s. In the case of Rittenhouse, was generously featured in the New York Times as someone “who has idolized law enforcement since he was young” and went to Kenosha “with at least one mission: to play the role of police officer and doctor”. The prosecution spotted a number of his lies on Wednesday, including false claims to the press about being an EMT. Part of the discomfort as we watched him get excited, not to mention the suspicion, could be that we’re generally not familiar with seeing boys and men display emotion in such a public way. Vulnerability and common conceptions of manhood, especially among conservatives, have not traditionally been bedfellows.
However, Rittenhouse’s emotion on the grandstand should be an indication of his behavior, not an excuse for it. By law, he was too young to have the weapon he owned and used to kill. He told the court that the reason he chose the AR-15-style rifle, as opposed to a pistol, is that he thought it “looked good.”
The legal experts I spoke to judged Rittenhouse’s testimony positive for him, because the defense must agree either way: while admitting the facts of the shootings, they must prove that Rittenhouse was the good guy that night and that he feared. for his life. If Rittenhouse provoked the conflict and shot with his actions, he has no credible claim to self-defense. But if he can convince the jury that, as he told the court, either he or them, maybe he created a reasonable enough doubt. Time will tell.
American jurisprudence has bigger problems than Kyle Rittenhouse. This process, however, is shedding light on some. Our legal system tends to treat young whites like him as heartbreaking stories rather than warnings, especially if they show something that comes close to fear or remorse. The melodramatic’s resentment and accusation are due in part to the reasonable presumption that another 17-year-old non-white, committing the same act, was not receiving the same sympathy. They couldn’t be caught in misrepresentation – like Rittenhouse’s assertion on the night of the murder that Rosenbaum was armed when he threatened Rittenhouse before the shooting (Rosenbaum wasn’t) – and they expected tears to secure their acquittal.
Rittenhouse’s victims were all white men, which makes them somewhat of an exception in American jurisprudence. Typically, such bias is reserved for people of color and is issued by law enforcement. If people of color even survive encounters with law enforcement and live to see the inside of a courtroom for the possibility of being unfairly convicted or disproportionately convicted, it seems like a small miracle.
The self-styled militia patrolling the city that night was, according to several accounts, nearly all white men, another example of the unequal Second Amendment protections. It’s not that they didn’t have the right, even though Rittenhouse was technically too young (among the charges he faces is possession of a dangerous weapon under the age of 18).
Is it reasonable to think that a black person similarly equipped with a weapon of war during a civil rights protest in Kenosha would not have been arrested or potentially harmed by police swarming the streets? If that person shot someone, would they be able to use the defense that many police officers use when killing black and brown people – who feared for their lives? The tears on the stand didn’t work for the five exonerated in New York in 1989. Would they work for someone who looked like us?
This speaks largely of the negative reaction to Rittenhouse’s exhibition at the booth on Wednesday. It is not simply that a killer cried out of his own fear, rather than the lives he took. It represented the exercise of the right, the youth’s lasting perception of white men and boys committing illegal acts.
Racial favoritism remains one of the many tumors that plague our jurisprudence. At the end of the summer of 2020, there were fewer children incarcerated in the United States than at any time since the 1980s, but then a survey, released in March from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, revealed that even during a pandemic, the racial disparity in youth detention still grew, with white children in 30 states released at a 17 percent higher rate than black youth.
“America’s mistreatment of black children is chronic and incidental,” New York University law professor emeritus Kim Taylor-Thompson wrote in May. “The stereotype of the ‘black person as a criminal’, which identifies the danger with the color of the skin, has shown a remarkable resilience over time. It persists even in the light of conflicting data. ”
Kyle Rittenhouse can’t reverse that stereotype on his own, even if he’s doomed. It’s not bad if Rittenhouse gets a fair trial. Everyone should. This is the point. However, it is the exploitation of the leeway too often shown to young white defendants that makes people resent, and rightfully so.
The way Rittenhouse was pardoned is astounding, but not necessarily bad. But Jacob Blake is paralyzed today, in part, because he has not received the benefit of the doubt from a police officer that Rittenhouse has received from a legion of supporters (with even a judge appearing to tip the scales in his favor). If all lives really mattered, it wouldn’t be like that.