American teenager Kyle Rittenhouse has been found not guilty of all charges against him. It was ruled that he shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and shot and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, in self-defence. Therefore, he is not guilty of homicide or attempted homicide. In a normal state of affairs, that would be the end of the saga.
Unfortunately, this trial has been politicised across American, and to some extent Western, media. Representative Ayanna Pressley tweeted that racism and white supremacy are the bedrock of the American legal system, while an MSNBC host said Rittenhouse was a ‘murderous white supremacist’. Colin Kaepernick said both the system and Rittenhouse himself were white supremacist, while author Roxane Gay said the verdict would embolden white supremacist vigilantes. The narrative is fairly consistent.
But it’s consistently wrong. Rittenhouse is by no means a hero, despite what some on the American right might be saying, but the leaps of logic that have to be made to conclude he is a white supremacist are mind-boggling.
Firstly, the people Rittenhouse shot were white. The Independent got this wrong, claiming he shot three black people, but it is not surprising they got it wrong given the number of people calling Rittenhouse a white supremacist. It is not possible to conclude that Rittenhouse is a white supremacist because of the people he killed.
The riots were in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, who is a black man (who brandished a knife at the police). Perhaps this context is the justification people are using for calling Rittenhouse a white supremacist. But this would require that we accept violent riots should happen in response to police shooting a black person, and anyone who wants to stop the damage of these riots is a white supremacist. This is a conclusion most sensible people would reject, and anyone pushing it is sympathising with anarchists.
Rittenhouse was a Trump supporter, and the left had no problem branding Trump and his supporters as a mass of white supremacists. But given the fact that President Trump got 74 million votes in the last election, this would mean a large plurality of Americans are white supremacists. Certain people would be happy to go along with that conclusion, but it is ridiculous, considering many black and ethnic minority people voted for Trump.
One other argument being put forward says the system itself is built on white supremacy. Rittenhouse ‘got away with’ killing people because the American justice system protects white people. If Rittenhouse were black, he would have been found guilty and put away.
That argument is valid, but it is not sound. If the system is built on white supremacy, it would surely protect white people brought into court, so Rittenhouse and other white people would usually be found not guilty of whatever crimes they were accused of. That makes sense. But it is not sound for two reasons. Again, the people Rittenhouse shot were white. If the system is a white supremacist system, why would it protect one white person who killed two white people?
The other reason the argument is not sound is Derek Chauvin. A white police officer who killed a black man – George Floyd. He was found guilty and sent to prison for 22.5 years. In that case, the left was happy to cheer on the justice system working. This is inconsistent. It can’t be a brilliant justice system when you like the result, and a corrupt one when you don’t.
Before concluding this article, it is important to mention the strange tendency the American right has in situations like this. Florida congressman Matt Gaetz suggested Rittenhouse could intern for him. Paul Gosar and Madison Cawthorn did the same thing. This is similar to the way the American right made heroes of George Zimmerman (the man who killed Trayvon Martin), and Kim Davis (the court clerk who went to jail because she refused to grant marriage licenses to gay people). Rittenhouse may have been acting in self-defence, but he was still a 17-year-old boy who took a rifle into a riot. He made it more likely someone would die that night. The Republicans making him into a hero are not much better than the Democrats making him into a Klansman.
The more people throw around words like ‘white supremacist’, ‘racist’, and ‘fascist’, the more they lose their meaning. Kyle Rittenhouse was a kid who probably should not have been where he was. He shot three white people (who should also not have been there) in self-defence, killing two of them. The whole thing was a tragedy. It was not a coordinated act to further a white supremacist agenda or system. If people are determined to see racism everywhere, they will, but this is more likely to advance racism than stop it. Awareness and hyper-sensitivity are not the same thing.