For most Americans, the Rittenhouse verdict in Wisconsin sparked one of two reactions: blatant outrage or the satisfaction that comes from biased vindication. This divisive verdict was made public on November 19, 2021, that 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse had been acquitted of all charges against him. Rittenhouse was facing five charges including first-degree intentional homicide, 2 counts of first-degree reckless endangerment, first-degree reckless homicide, and first-degree attempted intentional homicide. These charges came from an altercation that occurred during a night of civil rights protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The protests were fueled by the newest occurrence of police brutality against a 29-year-old African-American, Jacob Black. Black was shot by a police officer 7 times while unarmed and paralyzed as a result.
In direct contrast, Rittenhouse took to the streets of Kenosha while fully armed with a rifle in anticipation of conflict. In a tussle with three different men, Rittenhouse walked away unharmed while 2 of the men were killed, and one injured. In each altercation, Rittenhouse stated that he feared for his safety.
It stands without objection that Rittenhouse should have been found guilty of at least one count of reckless endangerment as he fired around protesters who were not armed. The statute surrounding first-degree reckless endangerment states: “Whoever recklessly endangers another’s safety under circumstances which show utter disregard for human life is guilty of a Class F felony.” Rittenhouse disregarded the lives of others in the interest of self-survival, that much is clear.
What remains unclear is why Rittenhouse was motivated to be amongst the protesters in the first place. Debates have sprung up on social media from individuals who are wondering whether Rittenhouse decided to take law enforcement into his own hands, and if that is punishable by itself. Other ongoing debates have risen up in response to ongoing court cases that were resolved with harsher sentences for lesser crimes.
The decision made by the jury has drawn a line in the sand that separates the universal notion of justice from the judicial system. An all-encompassing question stands at the foot of this verdict: if the law is able to be so drastically bent for one individual yet another of a different color would instantly be convicted, does the law itself need to be less ambiguous to avoid discrepancies? To many, it seems that the clauses within the law are never activated unless they are in regards to a Caucasian. On the other hand, changing the clauses within the law could lead to more issues down the line as there often isn’t an absolute right or wrong decision when the circumstances vary.
The Rittenhouse verdict has made one thing clear: a deeper reform is imperative, as the imbalance of equity is becoming increasingly more difficult to disregard. What was once advertised as the freest country in the world is now facing the reality that America has its favorites, and people of color are still struggling to be one of them.