Kyle Rittenhouse and the three men he shot were all white, yet “race is in every single aspect” of this trial, says Insha Rahman, vice president of the Vera Project.
Rahman said the victims of the shooting were all participants of a protest against the shooting of a Black man by police, with one depicted as mentally ill, and this shaped how the all-white jury would view them.
“The background of a Black Lives Matter protest sort of permeated the defense’s story about why Kyle Rittenhouse would need to feel afraid and would reasonably be afraid and therefore be armed,” said Rahman.
“So race is in every single aspect of this case, from its origins, and Kyle Rittenhouse’s allegedly reasonable fear that led to him acting in self-defense, as he claimed, to the jury buying that.”
Rahman said that, more broadly, a defendant like Rittenhouse is more likely to receive the benefit of the doubt from white juries than what Black or brown criminal defendants rarely receive.
“The vast majority of people who are accused of a crime and go through the criminal legal process are Black and brown, and juries rarely, if ever, reflect the racial diversity of the communities from which they’re selected,” said Rahman during a Nov. 19 conversation with PBS NewsHour’s Nicole Ellis.
Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges Friday after pleading self-defense in the deadly Kenosha shootings that became a flashpoint in the debate over guns, vigilantism and racial injustice in the U.S.
He was charged with homicide, attempted homicide and reckless endangering for killing two men and wounding a third with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle in the summer of 2020 during a tumultuous night of protests over the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white Kenosha police officer.
Rittenhouse, a former police youth cadet, said he went to Kenosha to protect property from rioters. He is white, as were those he shot.
The anonymous jury, which appeared to be overwhelmingly white, deliberated for close to 3 1/2 days.
Rittenhouse could have gotten life in prison if found guilty on the most serious charge, first-degree intentional homicide, or what some other states call first-degree murder. Two other charges each carried over 60 years behind bars.
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