Last November, Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty of the charges of willful and reckless homicide, as well as reckless endangerment, but the consequences of his acquittal extend far beyond the three people he injured. Following protests surrounding police killings, the verdict allows white vigilantes to bring so-called “justice” to protests while avoiding jail time.
White vigilantism is central to American history. Before Rittenhouse, self-proclaimed night watchman Georges Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed Trayvon Martin in 2012 and was also acquitted of acting in self-defense. the American right-wing rose in defense of Zimmerman, shown when the conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh said, “HWe wanted to protect his neighborhood and he just got a little overzealous.
More than individual vigilantes, the The era of reconstruction (1865-1877) contained a wave of white vigilantes manifesting itself in the mass lynchings of African Americans. In acts of organized terror, mobs of white lynchers in the South persecuted and killed African Americans, often in response to alleged crimes. the Tulsa Race Massacre, the largest in American history, started when a white mob surrounded a courthouse where Dick Rowland, a black man accused of assaulting a white woman, was being held.
In 2020, the threat of white vigilante violence remains.
In front of the demonstrators took to the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin in August 2020 after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Facebook page titled “Kenosha Guard – Armed Citizens to Protect our Lives and Property” issued a call to action: “Patriots ready to take up arms and defend our city tonight against evil thugs?” Page creator Kevin Mathewson posted on the day of the shooting.
Rittenhouse may not have been specifically inspired by Mathewson’s page, but Mathewson said about 1,000 people engaged in the “Call to Arms” Facebook event. It’s about 1,000 people vowing to arm themselves and roam the streets of Kenosha, echoing Rittenhouse’s intention protect Kenosha by any means necessary.
the only people who died in Kenosha during the protest were Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, both of whom were shot by Rittenhouse. Despite the absence of other killings, many members of the Facebook militia appeared to harbor murderous intent.
“Counter-demonstration? Nah, I fully intend to kill looters and rioters tonight,” one of the page members commented. “I’ve got my suppressor on my AR, them fools won’t even know what hit them.”
The militia posed enough of a threat that Facebook promised to remove this.
Rittenhouse testified that he traveled to Kenosha to protect businesses and administer first aid. An automatic weapon is required to provide these services. Rather than defending property as Mathewson claimed on Facebook, these white vigilantes sought violence. With the high-profile case of Rittenhouse allowing these police cadets to act violently without brazenness, it’s only a matter of time before more protesters are killed.
In Wisconsin, self-defense laws are fragile. While the law stipulates that people “cannot intentionally use force that is intended or likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm unless the defendant reasonably believed that the force used was necessary to prevent imminent death or grievous bodily harm”, this belief reasonable is then contradicted in the law.
“A person who engages in unlawful conduct of a type likely to provoke attack on another, and who provokes an attack, is not permitted to use or threaten force in self-defense against such attack “, states the law of Wisconsin. However, the law also states that “the reasonableness of the defendant’s beliefs must be determined from the point of view of the defendant at the time of the defendant’s acts”.
This contradiction ultimately helped acquit Rittenhouse, who claimed to feel threatened at the moment. For that reason, it didn’t matter that he caused a conflict by bringing an assault rifle to a demonstration – the prosecution cannot refute his feelings.
Nor could the jury really know the feelings of Rosenbaum and Huber, who were shot by Rittenhouse. Only Gaige Grosskreutz, the third victim and only survivor, could talk about how he acted in self-defense against what he considered an active shooter.
“I never tried to kill the accused” Grosskreutz said. “At that time, I was trying to preserve my own life.”
On video, Grozzkreutz stopped in front of Rittenhouse, seen raising his hands in the air. Grosskreutz testified that Rittenhouse then reloaded his rifle after surrendering.
When someone can shoot another person who has clearly surrendered on video and still been acquitted, it is clear that self-defense laws are not meant to serve those who are truly in danger. On the contrary, these laws protect the militiamen who provoke conflicts before making them deadly.
When Zimmerman tracked and shot 17-year-old Martin dead in 2012 despite being told by a dispatcher not to, the trial was a forerunner of Rittenhouse’s in its flimsy justification of self-defense. Despite instructions to avoid contact with Martin, inconsistencies between witnesses, anomalies in Zimmerman’s injuries, and Zimmerman calling Martin a “fucking punk” before killing him, the prosecution could not prove that Zimmerman did not feel in danger.
Florida”Defend your territorywhich eliminates the requirement to retreat before using deadly force present in most self-defense laws, comes to mind. Wisconsin does not have this law, but the 25 states that do essentially grants vigilantes permission to kill. Following Rittenhouse’s verdict, these vigilantes can now provoke deadly conflict with impunity.
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz introduced the “National law on your positionlast Monday, aimed at spreading these laws across the United States. Gaetz cited Rittenhouse by name in a Press release, signaling to all possible future Rittenhouses that causing a conflict and firing without having to retreat is acceptable if the act passes.
Victims of “justifiable homicides” in the United States are overwhelmingly African American. The outcome of the verdict will lead to more vigilante killings by white gunmen playing cops. Without the veil of legal repercussions and white vigilantes watching the protests, the death toll will only rise.
Erin Fine is a second-year journalism and communications major. She can be reached at [email protected].