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People march to Federal Plaza on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Chicago to protest the acquittal Friday of Kyle Rittenhouse, 18, in Kenosha, Wis. Rittenhouse killed two people and injured another during a protest against police brutality in Wisconsin last year. (Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

Column: Is America too broken to convict Kyle Rittenhouse?

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By Carmen Gentile


Anyone who thought Kyle Rittenhouse would go to prison for killing two people and injuring another with a deadly weapon during a racial justice protest either wasn’t paying attention to the trial or only recently awakened from a decades-long coma that began before the Civil Rights era. 

It was never going to happen. 

Never. Ever. 

From the start of pre-trial proceedings, until the jury deliberated the charges, Wisconsin Judge Bruce Schroeder was clearly In the bag for the baby-faced killer, who with the help of his honor, skirted responsibility for his actions and cleared the way for future vigilantes to roam American streets. 

Schroeder berated prosecutors repeatedly and rigged the trial so that Rittenhouse would walk, all while fine-tuning his audition reel for a future gig on Fox News or one of the even more loathsome and racist (never thought I’d type this sentence) cable news outlets like Newsmax or OAN. 

The first-degree murder charges were always going to be tough to prove. The bar is pretty high in America’s judicial system to prove someone had murder on their minds when taking a life. And with Schroeder insisting the deceased couldn’t be referred to as “victims,” though suggested they be called “rioters,” “looters” or “arsonists,” it was clear from the get go that justice wasn’t getting a seat in his courtroom. 

Which is why the lesser charges — including two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety — also never had a chance of landing. 

The one charge that did seem like a no-brainer — and would at least land Rittenhouse behind bars for a short while — was a misdemeanor weapons possession count over Rittenhouse’s gun. The accused gunman, seen killing two people on video, was only 17 when his mommy drove him to Kenosha wielding an assault rifle he could not legally possess. 

Alas, Schroeder wasn’t about to take any chances that the extremist right’s favorite new heavily-armed, holiday “cherub” wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving. 

Rittenhouse’s counsel found a legal loophole, which allows minors to own rifles or shotguns as long as they are not “short-barreled.” Schroeder then informed the jury prior to deliberations to let that one slide. 

That shouldn’t have surprised anyone who did catch the judge’s phones ringing during the trial to the tune of Lee Greenwoods’ “God Bless the USA,” a Trump favorite which Greenwood performed at the former president’s 2017 inauguration. 

This is America in the waning days of 2021. And parts of it are seemingly broken beyond repair. Not all of it. But too much of it for the Republic to survive intact for the long term.

We cannot remain a nation united under the founding principles of the Constitution and equal justice under the law if those laws clearly only apply to some and not others. 

Because had Kyle Rittenhouse been a Black teen running around Kenosha with an illegally possessed semi-automatic weapon resulting in the deaths of two people, the defendant would be buried under the prison by now with no hope of reprieve. 

Black activists in Kenosha agree. Here’s what Kyle Johnson, an organizer with Black Leaders Organizing Communities, told The Associated Press this weekend amid protests over the jury’s decision. 

“You cannot tell me that these institutions are not sick … You cannot tell me that these institutions are not tainted with racism.”

He’s right. You can’t. 

Still not sure if justice was done in deference to the letter of the law? I’m willing to admit that your confusion may be justified, as sometimes the “rule of law” and “justice” don’t always sync up. 

Sometimes guilty people go free and innocents are locked up. It’s one of the flaws in an American legal system created by imperfect people, as we all are. 

But this was a legal decision that transcended human frailty and exploited legal loopholes. Rittenhouse’s acquittal is a symptom of the racism and double standards that still pervade too many courtrooms in America. 

Still not sure? 

Then let’s see what leaders like GOP Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson had to say about the decision. You know Ron. He’s the guy that call the Jan. 6 coup attempt a “mostly peaceful protest” and accused the FBI of knowing more about the attack than it’s willing to reveal, paving the way for the inevitable “false flag” allegations that have gone from being the sole realm of tinfoil hat conspiracists to mainstream, Republican orthodoxy. 

To him, rule of law apparently only applies to those on the opposite side of whackadoo beliefs. 

He said this of Rittenhouse, who travels in extremist militia circles similar to those of many in the Jan. 6 mob. 

“I believe justice has been served in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. I hope everyone can accept the verdict, remain peaceful, and let the community of Kenosha heal and rebuild.”

Still not convinced that justice wasn’t served? 

How’s this: both Reps. Matt Gaetz (facing accusations of underage sexual activity) and Madison Cawthorn (carries guns to schools and in airports and regularly foments violence among his followers) have already offered Rittenhouse internships. 

If these two are offering you a job, you’re not someone who operates on the right side of justice, history, or basic human decency. 

I now count Judge Schroeder and others like him among the ranks of the unjust, a revelation that’ll likely be met with the same amazement among Black Americans, other communities of color, and legal scholars as if I were to inform them that indeed the sky is blue. 

So, yeah. America is currently too broken to convict Kyle Rittenhouse. 

But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Carmen Gentile

Postindustrial founder Carmen Gentile has worked for some of the world’s leading publications and news outlets including The New York Times, USA Today, CBS News and others. His book, “Blindsided by the Taliban,” documents his life as a war reporter and the aftermath of his brush with death after being shot with a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan.

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