The Rittenhouse Trial: A Rude Awakening Regarding White Privilege and Systemic Racism

On August 25, 2020, then-17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin in the midst of a protest led in response to a police shooting that left Black 29-year-old Kenosha resident Jacob Blake partially paralyzed.

Rittenhouse released fire onto the protesters from his Smith and Wesson AR-style semi-automatic rifle. He fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and injured Gaige Grosskreutz. 

Rittenhouse pictured alongside police | Photo courtesy of The New York Times

When Rittenhouse shot him, Rosenbaum, age 36, was unarmed. The prosecution of Rittenhouse’s case argued that though Rosenbaum’s death was unintentional, the following few victims were shot with intent to kill. After Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse shot and killed 26-year old Huber and wounded 27-year old Gaige Grosskreutz.

While Rittenhouse claims self-defense, according to NBC Chicago, lead prosecutor, Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger, maintains that Rittenhouse was the aggressor,  charging him with one count of reckless homicide, one count of intentional homicide, and one of attempted intentional homicide. 

Kenosha County Circuit Judge, Bruce Schroeder, is presiding over Rittenhouse’s trial and has since attracted mass media attention. Many are accusing him of siding with the defense with a glaringly obvious bias. 

Judge Schroeder’s first controversy followed a comment he made prior to a courtroom lunch break during the trial on November 11.

“I hope the Asian food isn’t coming … isn’t on one of those boats in Long Beach Harbor,” Schroeder said. 

Judge Bruce Schroeder reprimanding Binger in his conduct in line of questioning while
cross-examining Kyle Rittenhouse | Photo courtesy of Getty Images

In a case as sensitive and racially focused as that of Rittenhouse, such a comment by the presiding judge is especially irresponsible, unnecessary, and, according to many, offensive. 

Executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ), John C. Yang, like many others,  was deeply disturbed by the judge’s careless comments. 

“Seriously, this remark can only be seen as a joke at the expense of Asians/Asian Americans. During a trial that clearly has race implications, no less. Definitely not okay,” Yang said. 

But criticism of Judge Schroeder goes beyond this single comment. In other cases, he seems to be implementing orders that many claim to be in support of the defense.

According to NBC News, Schroeder banned the prosecution from using the word “victim” to describe the individuals wounded or killed by Rittenhouse. Prosecutor Thomas Binger argued that the words “rioters,” “looters,” and “arsonists” are “loaded, if not more loaded,” than “victim.”

“You’ve not let me call someone a victim when it was proven,” Binger said. 

The judge disregarded this argument, and maintained his initial decision to bar the prosecution from using the word “victim.” 

Other accounts of presumed bias include Judge Schroeder’s dismissal of video footage on the grounds that Apple’s “pinch to zoom” feature made the evidence unreliable. 

Rittenhouse in court | Photo courtesy of AP News

“iPads, which are made by Apple, have artificial intelligence in them that allow things to be viewed through three dimensions and logarithms,” the defense team said. “It uses artificial intelligence, or their logarithms, to create what they believe is happening. So this isn’t actually enhanced video, this is Apple’s iPad programming creating what it thinks is there, not what necessarily is there.”

Having conservative affiliations is not a crime. And neither is the opposite. The responsibility of those involved in the justice system, however, is that they must remain unbiased, maintaining their focus on impartial justice. All eyes are on Judge Schroeder’s courtroom, but this does not seem to deter him from implementing bias in his decisions. 

Rittenhouse is a young white man of conservative political affiliations. In the system of American criminal justice, he has the most privileges. Others are not so fortunate. 

Black Americans, like the Martinsville Seven and the Central Park Five, often face charges of murder and rape under penalty of death they were not proven to have committed under a fair trial. Among Black people exonerated from murder convictions, approximately 31% were wrongly convicted of killing white people, though just 15% of homicides by Black people involved white victims, the National Registry of Exonerations reported.

Additionally, according to the United States General Accounting Office, Death Penalty Sentencing, in 82% of the stud­ies reviewed, race of the vic­tim was found to influ­ence the like­li­hood of being charged with cap­i­tal mur­der or receiv­ing the death penal­ty. In essence, history has proven that justice is allocated as a privilege, not an inherent right. Systemic racism is alive and well. The recent case of Kyle Rittenhouse proves this.

Written by Roaa Alkhawaja

Co-Editor in Chief and Senior, Ro'aa Alkhawaja, loves herself a good week of reading, baking, tea-drinking, and eating more Nutella sandwiches than should be humanly possible.

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