A Land Where Justice is a Game

Photograph Source: Lightburst – CC BY-SA 4.0

Another right-wing vigilante walks free in the USA. The fact that I was even mildly hopeful Kyle Rittenhouse would get some prison time only proves my eternal optimism. Once again, that optimism was misplaced. After all, it is the United States of America that I’m talking about; a nation whose history is replete with stories of white men walking free after murdering individuals who made them afraid. It is the United States of America; a nation whose history is replete with stories of Black men lynched, executed, or imprisoned for crimes the state knew they didn’t commit. It is the United States of America; a land where the defense of property takes precedence over human life in the courts and in the streets. Especially when that property is owned by a white man.

Nothing could be more typically American than Kyle Rittenhouse’s murder spree and its aftermath. From the shooting itself to his courtroom defense that he “was only defending himself,” the entire scenario reeks of arrogance and sociopathy. Indeed, it’s a perfect metaphor for the US empire and its “foreign policy,” where the concept of self-defense often involves traveling away from one’s home with a loaded weapon, walking down unfamiliar streets away from home, and then murdering people who tell you to go away? This series of events is the template for what US politicians (and many citizens) call US foreign policy. The mindset it inculcates is one that creates the Kyle Rittenhouses among its residents.

Make no mistake, the Rittenhouse trial was a political trial. The far-right knew it could manipulate the evidence in its favor, especially given the nature of stand your ground laws. The jury selection was also manipulated and the judge was not sympathetic to the murdered men. As for the prosecution, I was reminded of those grand juries that fail to indict murderous police officers because the state presents its case in such a way that makes indictment unlikely if not impossible. The assumptions of a jury’s members are played upon with the intention of bringing forth their fears and prejudices. A sophisticated legal team can convince a jury that what they see is not fact and that the legal team’s fiction is. Often, this manipulation involves removing the context of the acts being considered, shortening the timeline, and ultimately transferring the blame to the victims. This is a standard approach for the defense when police officers are charged with murder. It was used quite deftly by the Rittenhouse defense team.

Let’s pretend Rittenhouse was a leftist/BLM protester and had murdered two pro-police protesters in the same scenario like the one he was in when he killed those men. I doubt he would be a free man today. Instead, he would have been portrayed as the active shooter that he was, walking the streets of Kenosha fully armed and under the illusion he had the right to shoot people if they challenged him. In this imaginary circumstance, the pro-police protesters attempting to disarm a scared left-wing Rittenhouse would have been the heroes, and that Rittenhouse would have been the killer the real Rittenhouse is. This scenario assumes that a murdering left-wing Rittenhouse would not have been shot down in the streets by the police—a big assumption. I have protested too many Klan and Nazi rallies that were protected by the forces of law and order to think otherwise.

There are those on the left who concur with the verdict. They buy the lie that Rittenhouse was acting in self-defense. If these folks are thinking that they could use a similar defense should they find themselves in court for killing people at a protest, they are fools. As I said, this was a political trial. The defense was supported by money from fascists, white supremacist,s and other right-wing individuals and organizations. The trial of a leftist for similar killings would also be political. The verdict would most certainly be the opposite of Rittenhouse’s. US history reminds us that laws are applied differently to different people based on criteria involving skin tone, politics, and wealth. Too many people with what the state considers to be the wrong criterion sit in prison unjustly. Too many criminals with the approved criterion walk free and unchallenged.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com