It’s been days since my last post, but don’t worry, I’m still here! The week just got away from me somehow. Too many big projects popped up and they took priority. Today’s post is going to be a little different: nothing about books or reading. But I want to post this here so I can look back and be reminded of how I felt at this time.
I’m not sure what kind of national coverage this trial is getting (I wrote this piece a week ago – I can see from my Instagram feed this weekend that everyone knows about this case), but here in Wisconsin, the news is following the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. The now 18-year-old gunman is on trial for homicide that occurred during protests in Kenosha in 2020.
The trial makes my blood boil. There are days and days and days of trial involved. But why?
- He was in a place he didn’t need to be
- With a weapon he shouldn’t have had
- And killed two people and injured one other
Seems pretty open and shut to me.
Then again, what do I know? Because he wasn’t even arrested that night. He turned himself in the following day. Turns out, police interacted with him during the protest, thanking him and walking alongside him while his hands were on an AR-15 rifle.
How insulting to the victims and their families to have to watch as people debate whether Rittenhouse was in the right or not. Whether it was self-defense or not. Information about the victims has come out, questioning whether they were good people or whether they were protestors or looters. Frankly, that doesn’t matter one bit. That information was not available to Rittenhouse at the time. It didn’t factor into his decision to pull the trigger.
The trial sets a dangerous precedent because a large portion of people seem to think that Rittenhouse was justified in his actions. He received praise online and even monetary contributions. What message does this send to other young men? Surely no BIPOC male would have gotten away with the same actions. White supremacy is rearing its ugly head once again.
Lately, there is a strange push to give all sides equal standing, when not all sides or viewpoints or opinions are equal. We are seeing this “two side to every story” issue playing out all over the news. In the trial of Derek Chauvin, for example, there is video proof, eye witnesses, and testimony, yet the trial took 6 weeks and the final verdict was not a given (Derek Chauvin ultimately received 22 ½ years in prison, but the guilty verdict was a surprise to many). The debate shouldn’t have centered around whether Chauvin killed George Floyd or not – it’s clear that he did – the debate should have centered on justice.
This also played out at the insurrection at the capitol on January 6th. We literally watched people breaking into the capitol on live television, and then people (including politicians who were there!) tried to tell us that it didn’t happen. Or that it wasn’t that big of a deal. Or that the actions were justified. Where are the consequences for these actions?
Rittenhouse killed two people. Those are the facts. They are not up for debate. What I feel can be up for debate is the consequence of these actions.
- He was 17 at the time of the crime, so does that mean he should receive a lighter sentence?
- What sort of rehabilitation should he receive? Is rehabilitation possible?
- How does he go about making changes in his life so that he can become a better person and civilian?
- And furthermore, what changes need to be made (legally/culturally) so this doesn’t happen again?
(Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges, so absolutely none of these things will even be considered.)
By the way, the answer to all of these questions isn’t necessarily to send everyone to jail. We live in a nation that is 5% of the world’s population (isn’t that funny to think about? We think America is a big deal, but we are just a drop in the bucket!), yet we hold 25% of the world’s prison population. It should be no surprise that it’s disproportionately brown and black prisoners. And I live in Wisconsin, which consistently ranks high in incarceration rates (per Prisonpolicy.org Wisconsin incarcerates 663 people per 100,000 – compared to the UK with 129/100,00, Italy with 89/100,000 and Norway 54/100,000). So, prison isn’t always the answer. But there does need to be accountability.
And recompense or restitution.
And sincere remorse and apology.
Compassion and empathy.
Measurable change and growth.
I receive emails from a social justice based group in Wisconsin called WISDOM, and the message they sent on November 19th following the jury’s announcement that Rittenhouse was found not guilty stated:
“This verdict is one more demonstration that our criminal legal system is broken. A young white man was just exonerated for actions we all know would have been punished severely if he had been African-American or Native American. Unfortunately, in our state and country, justice is not blind.
This verdict has also demonstrated how bankrupt our system of “justice” has become.
In WISDOM, we believe that far fewer people should be in prison. And, people should be incarcerated for much less time than is the case now, especially for people of color and people without money or wealthy backers. People grow and change, even after they have done very bad things. And locking them in cages does not help that process – many people grow emotionally and spiritually while incarcerated despite the system, not because of it.
This case demonstrates that we are lacking as a society in imagination. People need to be held accountable. But we need to find other ways to do that, other than just locking them away. We need to find ways to keep our communities safe from gun-toting extremists and others who show no respect for human life.”
As we all continue to process and contemplate what the Rittenhouse ruling means for the future, what ultimately keeps popping up in my head is a quote by philosopher/activist Cornel West, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”