Columnist argues the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse is proof that it isn’t safe to
protest, and that despite this threat we must dissent.
BY MATTHEW DORON, ’23.
When I saw the Apple News notification that an 18 year old named Kyle Rittenhouse had just been found not guilty on all counts in a trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin, I cursed, sighed and put my head in my hands.
To understand this case, we must look at Aug. 23, 2020, when a Black man named Jacob Blake was shot and wounded by Rusten Sheskey, a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Blake being shot was yet another example of the systemic violence against Black Americans by the police. The shooting sparked several days of protests, during which several businesses were looted. This prompted several white supremacist groups to coordinate on FaceBook to “protect businesses” that were being damaged during these protests.
Rittenhouse, then 17, saw these groups coordinate, borrowed a friend’s assault rifle and had his mother drive him from their home in Illinois to Wisconsin. On Aug. 25, 2020, he went into downtown Kenosha, already a disorderly and tense scene, and shot three men, killing two and wounding a third.
His trial began on Nov. 2, 2020, where the prosecution was already banned from referring to the two men killed and the third injured as victims and Rittenhouse was already the subject of intense debate over gun rights and protesting. Rittenhouse’s team made a claim of self defense and he was found not guilty on all five counts (a sixth was dismissed before the trial ended).
At its core, this case is about the alarming trend of white supremacists arming themselves, calling themselves “vigilantes,” and shooting those protesting violence against Black Americans. The term “vigilantes” has long been used to justify harming dissenters, such as the KKK murdering Black activists organising for the right to vote in the 1950s.
Since protests over George Floyd’s death began in May 2020, these armed “vigilantes” have been threatening and harming protestors across the country. These white men are often affiliated with white supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys and connect through social media platforms to coordinate confrontations.
When discussing Rittenhouse, some have tried to justify his actions by the fact that protestors were looting businesses. Just because protestors are acting in a disorderly manner and using looting as a form of protest does not mean “vigilantes” should be able to shoot them with assault rifles and be acquitted on all charges.
Rittenhouse crossed state lines to go to an already tumultuous scene with an assault rifle then claimed self defense after shooting three demonstrators. He walked into the lion’s den then blamed the lion.
These “vigilantes” are trying to scare us, threaten us into staying home. They are trying to use intimidation tactics to get us to silence our dissent, our anger towards the systemic racism and abuse by the police against Black Americans, but we will not be silent.
Author and activist James Baldwin once said: “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”