Like many of you, I presume, I’ve been reading about, processing, and talking about the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. I’m not going to write about whether the jury got it right or not, or if the prosecutor did a good job, or if the judge was biased (well that last one is a bit hard to ignore) as I don’t have the expertise to about Wisconsin self-defense laws, know what was discussed in the jury room, nor know proper prosecutorial strategy.
I am confident in this: if Kyle Rittenhouse was Black I don’t believe that he would have survived that night having shot three people and then walked toward police with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. So, this has me thinking about what I wrote a couple days ago about systems maintaining the status quo and how this case fits into that pattern of negative feedback loops providing inertia to systemic change.
Let’s begin with this observation juxtaposing two trials. The press, and therefore most of us in conversation, have been talking about the “Kyle Rittenhouse” trial and the “Ahmaud Arbery” trial. My observation of this coverage is it seems when the victims are white, the press labels the trial by the name of the defendant and when the victim is Black, the press labels the trial with the name of the victim. Without googling it, I don’t even know the name of the defendants (three I think) in the trial of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. This is absolutely about a system that perpetuates racial inequity.
Now, back to Kyle Rittenhouse in the context of a system maintaining a status. What comes next? One individual faces physical and psychological recovery, two families are grieving, but I think what happens with Kyle Rittenhouse will be the most telling in terms of understanding where we are systemically.
The right has already begun heroification of Kyle Rittenhouse. They will use him to further their goal which to me appears to be all “good people” (I read that as white people) openly carrying guns and using them to maintain and enforce their authoritarianism. They don’t say that last part. But they do say the first part. Republican Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina stated, “Kyle Rittenhouse is not guilty, my friends. You have a right to defend yourself,” and said in video posted, “Be armed, be dangerous, be moral.” I struggle to see how being dangerous and moral go together. Representative Matt Gaetz wants to hire Kyle Rittenhouse as an intern. Tucker Carlson will further this heroification on Fox News on Monday November 22.
I fear that the impact of this for all of us is further emboldening individuals to enforce their interpretation of justice and then be lifted up by the continued shrinking power and wealth class of which individuals such as Gaetz, Cawthorn, and Carlson benefit from being a part of. This will lead to more laws protecting such action and more laws such as the Texas abortion prohibition law emboldening individuals to exercise the authority of the state and therefore without proper guardrails and safeguards. This will further concentrate power. This is one weapon used by a small authoritarian class maintaining order over the majority being ruled. We’re not there yet, but it appears that is the intent of the current GOP (and some Democrats I’m sure too) and those with concentrated wealth and power they represent.
The effect of this heroification of Kyle Rittenhouse on him might be instead of dealing with the traumatic even of which he was a part, he will get lifted up, emboldened, and ultimately dehumanized and be simply a living symbol. What impact will this have on his still developing 18-year-old brain and maturation as a man? I don’t think it can be good. And I don’t think the likes of Tucker Carlson or Matt Gaetz are going to take him under their wing and guide him through this trauma and maturation. Honestly, can they? I’m confident in stating they will use him to further their agenda, maintain their power and influence, and when he no longer serves that purpose they will discard him.
As a result of this, how many more individuals will die either at the hands of Kyle Rittenhouse or another now given license to seek out and “protect other people’s property.” And who’s property, wealth and power are they really protecting?
Despite the legalities of this entire episode if we don’t help the individuals involved, and then by extension ourselves, deal with and then heal from this trauma, it will only add more heft to the accumulating snowball picking up speed toward greater division, more violence, and greater inequity. You or I cannot stop this snowball. It requires collective action.