This is what happens when the system does what it was designed to do: protect the privileged, no matter how ridiculous it looks.
Here are some facts: In August of last year, Kyle Rittenhouse, then a 17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois, traveled across state lines to Kenosha, Wisconsin, and picked up an AR-15 rifle (illegal for him to carry under Wisconsin state law) from an older friend in the city. There, during the ongoing social justice protests spurred by the police shooting of Jacob Blake — a Black man shot multiple times in the back in front of his young children — Rittenhouse himself opened fire, killing two people and wounding a third.
Rittenhouse now stands accused of murder. He has spent the past week in a Kenosha courtroom where, by all indications, he will likely be acquitted for shooting multiple people to death in the streets of a city to which he had no connection beyond an apparent compulsion to enforce his own vigilante-inspired sense of law and order — a compulsion that has turned him into a contorted folk hero among the far-right in this country. And while criminal trials — particularly those as serious and significant as a murder case at the heart of this country’s fraught nexus of race, police violence, white supremacy, and social justice — are expected (or at least hoped to be) to be neutral affairs, the Rittenhouse trial has thus far been anything but.
In no small part, the overt tilt in Rittenhouse’s favor can be traced directly to Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder, who has spent the entirety of the trial transparently stacking the deck against prosecutors trying to make the case that shooting people in the middle of the street can and should be considered “murder.” From ordering that the men killed by Rittenhouse can’t be referred to at trial as “victims” (but “looters” and “rioters” is okay!) to encouraging the courtroom to applaud for one of Rittenhouse’s witnesses — a veteran, on Veterans Day — Schroeder has appeared willing to abandon any pretense of objectivity in favor of a lopsided farce in which every opportunity to obfuscate and distract is afforded to the defense, at the expense of a prosecution team he has openly berated.
Schroeder has been so openly hostile to the prosecution, in fact, that Rittenhouse’s defense team has made the dramatic move to request a total mistrial with no option for a retrial, capitalizing on Schroeder’s earlier upbraiding of lead prosecutor Thomas Binger. While Schroeder has not yet ruled on the request, that defense attorneys even raised the possibility based on the judge’s own actions is just further evidence that the case is being handled in a decidedly lopsided manner.
By the time Rittenhouse himself took the stand Wednesday, where he openly wept while insisting “I defended myself,” it seemed almost a foregone conclusion to many observers that the now-18-year-old will ultimately walk free. And already the right-wing wagon-circling has begun, with Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance veering hard into fascist territory in his portrayal of Rittenhouse as a “young boy who defended his community” (he crossed state lines to drive to a completely different city) who deserved freedom for fear that “it may very well be your baby boy they come for [next].” It’s laughable to imagine Vance would extend the same courtesy toward someone with darker skin or more progressive politics.
Perhaps when the trial concludes, sometime in the coming days, Rittenhouse will, somehow, end up convicted. Perhaps the criminal justice system in this case will really be blind, and objective, and able to skew itself against the headwinds of an obviously biased society which has time and again looked the other way at overt instances of right-wing violence. But even a cursory glance at what’s been happening inside the Rittenhouse courtroom shows a judge, a legal system, and an entire wing of the country willing to only barely go through the motions of justice without actually engaging with the real thing.