Courtesy of Thomas Hawk via Flickr

The acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse was a relief for some and a gross abuse of the justice system for others. The nation has become divided over this case, with some as high on the political stage as Tulsi Gabbard and Donald Trump supporting the cases’ verdict. The evidence surrounded the case as well, especially video evidence that seemed to show that Rittenhouse indeed was acting in self-defense. However, what led to the trial in the first place — Rittenhouse carrying an assault rifle around a Black Lives Matter protest — can just as easily be stated that he intended to do harm. While the nature surrounding the case, the verdict and the evidence can be debated nonstop, one thing is for certain: the justice system continues to show that it is broken and needs to be fixed.

“Self-defense” laws are put into place to protect those who genuinely feel that they will be killed or experience grave harm by someone else who is actively hurting them. In drone camera footage, it seems that Joseph Rosenbaum threw a plastic bag at Rittenhouse, which would indicate on the surface that there was indeed some sort of provocation. However, a plastic bag would not constitute a risk of being killed or experiencing grave harm, as many self-defense laws state. Therefore, Rittenhouse did not truly have the right to claim self-defense as it is currently defined, because there was no risk of immense damage coming to his person. Unfortunately, “self-defense” is not defined clearly enough by law and people are able to get away with violent crimes as a result of it. The law needs to define what self-defense is and what it is not so that we don’t have the confusion and vagueness that have been seen around this particular trial as well as others.

It does not help either that when self-defense is used as a claim, the race of the person often is an indicator as to how they are treated. Marc Wilson, a biracial man, shot and killed a white man who was yelling racial slurs toward Wilson on a highway. Though there was an attempt to run Wilson off of the road, he was arrested on charges of aggravated assault and felony murder. While these charges are nothing to scoff at, Rittenhouse was being held on five different first-degree charges for homicide and recklessness and still was acquitted. Meanwhile, Wilson was not permitted bail and faces a life sentence for his actions, and Rittenhouse walks free, though both are pleading the same excuse. Though in an ideal world race would not even be a factor in any trial, the fact of the matter is that race relations in America are so high that they cannot be ruled out entirely. The fact that Rittenhouse was at a Black Lives Matter protest with an assault rifle seems to suggest that he intended to cause some kind of harm. The murky nature of self-defense laws means that systemic racism gets involved as well — and to no one’s benefit.

There are many angles to look at this case, and in all of them, the fact that even the charge for being a minor with possession of a dangerous weapon was dropped makes absolutely no sense. The case of self-defense as a concept needs to be federally defined, and this needs to be done on the basis of true intent. The issue with this case is the nature of intent, and whether Rittenhouse masked his ill intent with a plea of self-defense. If the concept were to have a solid legal definition, regardless of the nebulous nature of intent, then these cases would likely see more justice toward people who hide their intentions to do harm and the acquittal of people who acted because they truly felt like they were in danger.

Though the jury is being praised for supporting the claim of self-defense, the fact that self-defense is so nebulous in the first place shows the glaring holes that we still have in our justice system. It doesn’t help either that the self-defense excuse only benefits white men, showing that our system is still struggling with systemic racism in a time we need to be eradicating it from our societies. The Rittenhouse case is a prime example of how broken our justice system is and continues to be. Kyle Rittenhouse is not a hero. He is a benefactor of a system that benefits white men and helps them avoid the consequences of their actions.

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