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The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Kyle Rittenhouse Case Exposes Structural Flaws within U.S. Criminal Justice System

Kyle Rittenhouse carries a weapon as he walks along Sheridan Road in Kenosha, Wis., during a night of unrest following the weekend police shooting of Jacob Blake. (Adam Rogan/The Journal Times via AP, File)

The case of Kyle Rittenhouse was a widely publicized trial that showcases structural issues within the American justice system, as well as how conservatives have taken advantage of the spotlight on the situation in order to push their own narratives. 

Teenager Kyle Rittenhouse crossed state lines from Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha, Wisconsin on Aug. 25, 2020, during Black Lives Matter protests following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, in which the police shot an unarmed Black man as he was getting into his car. Rittenhouse shot three men, two of them fatally, according to the Kenosha country police department, and was tried for murder and arms charges around a year later, beginning on Nov. 1 2021.

During the trial, prosecutors characterized Rittenhouse as a “teenage vigilante,” who, due to his age, was not legally allowed to own the AR-15 he traveled across state lines with. Rittenhouse argued he did so in order to “protect” businesses from being damaged during the protests. 

Rittenhouse’s defense attorney presented his actions as acts of self defense, stating that he had no other choice than to kill the men who were seen walking towards Rittenhouse, and acting aggressively. While Rittenhouse may escape the legal definition of murder, he put himself in a situation to kill someone and acted, making him morally liable for murder.

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Ultimately, the jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse on all counts on Nov. 19, 2021, and found Rittenhouse not guilty of homicide, attempted homicide, and first degree recklessly endangering safety.

Legal experts criticized the judge, Bruce Schroeder, for his seemingly bizarre actions during the widely publicized trial. 

Schroeder made some seemingly odd decisions throughout the Rittenhouse trial, which reveal how biased he was from the beginning. Schroeder refused to call Rittenhouse’s victims “victims,” and when the judge’s phone rang, his ringtone was “God bless the USA,” by Lee Greenwood, which has become one of former President Donald Trump’s preferred entrance songs at rallies. 

On Veteran’s Day, the judge also gathered the jury in the courtroom to ask if any of them was a veteran. None were. He then asked if anyone who was in the courtroom gallery was a veteran, and again, none were. However, Schroeder then brought to the attention of the courtroom that the defense witness John Black, a use of force expert, was indeed a veteran. The judge asked the courtroom to stand and give “a round of applause” for the veteran, even though he was representing Rittenhouse’s side, and was not an unbiased member of the court. 

The judge’s bizarre imposition of patriotism doesn’t help establish justice in the trial, demonstrating  bias towards the defendant. Even though the judge clearly picked a favorite in the case, judges such as Schroeder are seldom held accountable for their actions. The American justice system doesn’t question judges’ powers, and this judge is just another biased judge within the American legal system. 

The most unusual decision from Schroeder was his denial of prosecutors’ motions to have the judge admit evidence of Rittenhouse at a bar with the Proud Boys, a nationalist group.

Rittenhouse 90 minutes after his non guilty plea posing with a Proud Boy, sporting a T-shirt which says “free as f**k.” Additionally, Rittenhouse is doing the “okay” sign, which white supremacist groups use as a symbol for white power. (Kenosha County District Attorney)

Rittenhouse with a larger group of Proud Boys.

According to prosecutors, the people in the photo were in the “highest echelons” of the Wisconsin chapter of the Proud Boys. (Kenosha County Circuit Court)

In response to the photos being brought to court, Schroeder said that he couldn’t admit “it as evidence for a motive that existed four months earlier.” Even though it seems utterly obvious that Rittenhouse was out celebrating with white supremacists as he purposefully chose to use a common racist gesture, the judge once again took the side of the defendant, and didn’t even consider the photos. 

While there seem to be several biased actions on behalf of the judge, his biased actions are only being brought to national attention due to the mass media coverage of the case. If the case hadn’t had as much coverage, Schroeder likely wouldn’t have received criticism over his actions. The trial would likely have had the same result, but nobody would have challenged the judge’s erratic actions or bias in favor of Kyle Rittenhouse, and the public would have forgotten about the case. Even with the media attention that the case garnered, the judge will continue to work in the Wisconsin circuit court, showing how little accountability judges face. 

Due to the fact that the judgement in the case was biased from the beginning, the decision is ultimately not an unexpected one. However, due to the extreme media attention on the case, many conservative pundits are praising Kyle Rittenhouse.

After the acquittal, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green said on Twitter that Rittenhouse and his family should now “live in peace,” and that Rittenhouse “is one of good ones.” 

Rep. Paul Gozer also stated that he would “arm wrestle [Congressman] Matt Gaetz to get dibs for Kyle as intern.” 

By praising Rittenhouse in such a public manner, conservatives are encouraging others to be more like him. Turning Rittenhouse into a heroic figure is problematic for a number of reasons, namely that it encourages others to follow in Rittenhouse’s actions. It encourages others to arm themselves with AR-15s and act as vigilantes monitoring protests. 

According to a new study from the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety and researchers with the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, protests with armed protestors are six times more likely to result in violence than protests with no armed protestors. Conservatives pushing their agenda by encouraging people to arm themselves for protests will inevitably only lead to more death and injury, as well as violent confrontations and animus at protests. 

Arming protestors should be condemned completely, as increased violence at protests will only discourage others from protesting peacefully, a first amendment protected right. While Rittenhouse’s trial isn’t an uncommon result in the American justice system, the precedent set by it could potentially be more damaging than the outcome of any self defense court case.

By Federico Opertti

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