Kyle Rittenhouse: Neither the Villain nor the Hero


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The Kyle Rittenhouse verdict has drawn both the ire and admiration of those all over the political spectrum. With Kyle Rittenhouse found not guilty of all charges, some champion it as a victory for a gun-holding America; others interpret it as a symptom of a corrupt and broken justice system. Yet, this case is neither—the verdict is legally legitimate and Rittenhouse is neither the villain nor the hero. While systemic racial inequality exists within the justice and enforcement systems of America, this case does not demonstrate this. The reactions to the verdict from many on the left reveal a clear political bias that pervades social media and its ability to push a narrative forward. 

Many on social media have vilified Rittenhouse, claiming that the Rittenhouse case is a clear example of racial bias within the criminal justice system. Some posts draw comparisons to the Tamir Rice incident, which involved the police shooting of an African-American boy holding a toy gun. On Twitter, for example, CNN’s Ana Navarro-Càrdenas compared how “Rittenhouse killed two men” and was found not guilty while “Tamir Rice was shot by police for holding a toy gun.” To her, the Rittenhouse case served as a “stark reminder of inequality.” On Instagram, various trending posts depicted Tamir Rice and Rittenhouse side-by-side, with the clear motive of propagating the social justice movement forward. 

Other people have attributed Rittenhouse’s verdict to the fact that the people who were killed supported these social justice movements. For example, journalist and author Nikole Hannah-Jones took to Twitter to say: “In this country, you can even kill white people and get away with it if those white people are fighting for Black lives.” In the Tweet, she refers to how Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, two white men who were protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man who was shot seven times by police the year before. 

What was the primary claim of these statements? Rittenhouse’s innocence was a product of his race. This assertion might bear more weight if the case was at all ambiguous—if the evidence didn’t clearly point to acquittal. Rittenhouse shot three people: one of whom cornered Rittenhouse and tried to grab his weapon, one of whom smacked Rittenhouse with a skateboard and also reached for his weapon, and one who actually took out a pistol and pointed it at Rittenhouse. In each case, there was undeniable video and eyewitness testimony to prove that Rittenhouse had a credible fear of being hurt. Simply put, nobody in Rittenhouse’s position, no matter the race, could’ve possibly been convicted under a fair justice system.

Beyond the question of clear legal innocence, Rittenhouse’s actions are also morally ambiguous, with neither side of the spectrum having the right to appropriate the Rittenhouse case for the furthering of their own political views. Both the right and the left have been guilty of this. 

On the right, many have portrayed his actions as heroic, asserting that he was merely protecting the neighborhoods of Kenosha. But despite his legal innocence, by no means is he without fault. Armed with an AR-15, Rittenhouse decided to take on a task that ought to have been left to enforcement officials. While the intentions of this vigilante justice to protect private property may have been pure, Rittenhouse knowingly carried a weapon that would incite tensions between him and the protesters. 

On the left, though, people have painted him as a villain—a malicious, racist bigot who went to Kenosha to incite violence. That isn’t quite true either: there was no indication that Kyle Rittenhouse had any violent intent; and, in fact, Rittenhouse, while admittedly reckless, went to Kenosha intending to help—to protect an auto dealership whose owner had been concerned for its safety after several cars around it had been burned.

Instead of acknowledging Rittenhouse’s endangerment of the public by going to a heated protest with heavy artillery, the right glorified him as a political symbol. Instead of accepting that Rittenhouse didn’t intend to do any harm and that he was perfectly innocent of murder, the left villainized him to vilify the right and disparage our legal system.

The media look at incendiary events the same way most of us behold ourselves in the mirror: twisting their neck, arching their eyebrows, angling their face… until the unrecognizable reflection is exactly what they want to see (or close enough to it). Once a haven for discovery and learning, the media now try to jam synthetic concoctions of stories—nothing more than fairy tales—down our throats. I guess the question is: should we swallow it?