Eighteen-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse has been found not guilty on all charges for the August 2020 shooting deaths of two men, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and for injuring a third man, Gaige Grosskreutz, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse had joined counterprotesters at a Black Lives Matter action protesting the police shooting of a Black man named Jacob Blake.
While not utterly shocking, this sort of blanket acquittal is hard to imagine had Rittenhouse been a Black teenager. Judge Bruce Schroeder, who presided over the case, showed obvious bias toward the defendant by allowing the dead and injured to be referred to as “rioters” but not “victims,” and for letting the defendant draw the names of jurors.
Rittenhouse, then a minor acting as an armed civilian rather than a police officer, nonetheless appeared to enjoy the type of “qualified immunity” that law enforcement officers routinely benefit from in fatal shooting cases. Indeed, in a recent interview, criminal justice expert Jody Armour highlights that the defense attorney explicitly argued that, since the officer who shot Blake and left him paralyzed was not charged with any crimes, surely his client similarly acted in self-defense, and therefore ought to be found innocent. The defense argued that Rittenhouse “stood in the place of a police officer,” says Armour.
Armour, who is the Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law at the University of Southern California, also explains that for White defendants in such cases, “the numbers are in your favor.” Citing statistics from the Urban Institute, Armour notes, “If you are somebody White who shoots somebody Black and claims self-defense in a case like this, you are 10 times as likely to be acquitted … by a jury as if you are Black and you shoot somebody White and claim justification.”
Although Rittenhouse’s victims are all White, Armour notes that because these men were participating in a Black Lives Matter protest against the police shooting of Blake, they were seen as sufficiently “Black-adjacent.” As a result, the men Rittenhouse killed and injured were subjected to the same kind of posthumous judicial character assassination that unarmed Black men killed by police or vigilantes frequently encounter.
In this interview with YES! Racial Justice Editor Sonali Kolhatkar (filmed before the Rittenhouse verdict was delivered), Armour connects the dots between the Rittenhouse trial and the ongoing trial for the alleged killers of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was fatally shot in Georgia in February 2020. Video of the incident, which emerged in May of that year, appears to show three White men in vehicles chasing, confronting, and shooting Arbery, who was on a jog in his own neighborhood.
Sonali Kolhatkar is currently the racial justice editor at YES! Media and a writing fellow with Independent Media Institute. She was previously a weekly columnist for Truthdig.com. She is also the host and creator of Rising Up with Sonali, a nationally syndicated television and radio program airing on Free Speech TV and dozens of independent and community radio stations. Sonali won First Place at the Los Angeles Press Club Annual Awards for Best Election Commentary in 2016. She also won numerous awards including Best TV Anchor from the LA Press Club and has also been nominated as Best Radio Anchor 4 years in a row. She is the author of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence, and the co-director of the nonprofit group, Afghan Women's Mission. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights, 2023). She has a Master’s in Astronomy from the University of Hawai’i, and two undergraduate degrees in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin. She reflects on her professional path in her 2014 TEDx talk, “My Journey From Astrophysicist to Radio Host.” She can be reached at sonalikolhatkar.com